Nfld. & Labrador

iTunes twist on phone scam costing N.L. seniors thousands, warn police

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is warning about a twist in a tax scam, where seniors are bullied into spending thousands of dollars on gift cards which are then turned over to criminals.

Callers demand iTunes gift card to cover unpaid taxes, say police

Seniors are especially vulnerable to phony authority figures and scammers pretending to be grandchildren, says a former police officer. (CBC)

Police in St. John's are warning of a twist in the tax scam, and say it's costing seniors and other vulnerable people thousands of dollars. 

The hard-sell approach is familiar; the intended victim is bullied by a caller who pretends to be from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), and told they owe money.

Then comes the twist. The mark is instructed to buy the con artist an iTunes gift card.

"These are very difficult investigations," RNC Sergeant Ralph Mitchell told Anthony Germain of the St. John's Morning Show. "A lot of times these people will never get their money back."

Senior had stack of gift cards

Mitchell says the callers target older people who can be convinced they owe the Canada Revenue Agency thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes. Threats include jail time if the taxes aren't paid.

That part of the scam has been well publicized. But the gift card angle is newer.

Mitchell said the targeted victim is instructed to buy iTunes gift cards and turn the code numbers over to the scammer. Once they have the code, the crooks have the money. 

By the time his family found him it was too late.- RNC Sergeant Ralph Mitchell

"Last week we had an elderly gentleman and his family members couldn't find him," Mitchell said. When they eventually located the man back in his home, they also found a stack of gift cards. 

"He was going to store to store to store in St. John's because they told him you have to give us $4,500 or the police will come and arrest you," Mitchell said. "By the time his family found him it was too late."  

Michell says it's important that people look after their neighbours. "Speak to the old lady who lives alone. Or the old gentleman. (Tell them) look, the CRA do not do this. The police do not do this." 

200 calls to RNC in one day

The RNC is asking retailers to keep watch and speak to anyone who spends an unusually large amount of money on gift cards. The force is also partnering with the RCMP to print brochures they'll distribute around the province. 

"Last Sunday we had 200 calls come into our communication centre," Mitchell said Friday. "People reporting that they have been called by this CRA scam." 

With files from the St. John's Morning Show