Edmonton

Edmonton seniors targeted in telephone tax scams

Sheelagh Anderson sensed something was wrong when she got a phone call last month from someone who claimed to be from the Canada Revenue Agency. She was told she owed back taxes and had to pay the money immediately or there would be big trouble.

'They hit me so aggressively and so fast that I couldn't think straight'

Det. Bill Allen says police have seen a recent jump in complaints about income tax scams.

Sheelagh Anderson sensed something was wrong when she got a phone call last month from someone who claimed to be from the Canada Revenue Agency.

She was told she owed back taxes and had to pay the money immediately or there would be big trouble.

"I had to pay up right away or they would send the police to my door in two hours," Anderson said.

At one point, she even suggested to the caller she was being scammed but said the person's tone then became even more threatening.

"He was extremely upset and said, 'Well, you know, you can go to jail if you want."

Anderson, 79, was told she could face up to five years behind bars.

'I couldn't think straight'

"They hit me so aggressively and so fast that I couldn't think straight. I wasn't able to think to myself that this was a scam, which of course it was. And I was very nervous, very upset."

Still shaking when she put down the phone, Anderson followed the instructions to send $3,900 to a bank account.

But she decided to hold the payment for one day.

After doing that, Anderson called her daughter, who knew straight away her mother was being ripped off.

Anderson called the bank and cancelled the payment.

She said she feels slightly embarrassed about the whole thing now but is speaking out to let others know about the scam.

Edmonton police confirm seniors are the ones being targeted most often by such scams.

With tax time approaching, they've seen a jump in complaints recently and get up to 30 calls a day about the scam.

Police want everyone to know the Canada Revenue Agency would never act in that way.

Police warn about tax scam phone calls

"This is not how the CRA does business," said Det. Bill Allen from the economic crimes section. "They do not phone you up, they do not threaten you over the phone, they do not use the threat of the police arresting you in order to get you to send money."

The police said the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reported Canadians lost more than $74 million through mass marketing fraud in 2014.

That's a jump from almost $60 million in 2013.

Phone and fax scams are the most common ways people are conned.

Allen said seniors are most at risk of getting such calls

'They play off that fear'

"We as a generation, and even more so our parents, have always been taught to fear the taxman, never owe the government, always pay on time," Allen said. "And the bad guys know that, and they play off that fear."

Allen said people should contact police if they get calls of this nature.

Relieved she was able to stop her payment, Anderson said she spoke out to try to save other potential victims.

"They're scum, and what worries me is other people who followed through and sent the money," she said. "They're preying on people maybe like myself who are older."

With victims and perpetrators often in different provinces, Allen said investigating scams can be "extremely complicated."

He said the best defence is education, which is why police launched National Fraud Prevention Month in Edmonton on Tuesday.

Over the next month, police hold a number of events to tell people about other scams and ways to guard against them.

gareth.hampshire@cbc.ca

@cbcgareth

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