Nova Scotia

Weymouth woman loses thousands in CRA scam

A woman in Digby County says she was so frightened by the scammers she couldn't think straight.

'Take the time to research, get advice including calling the police,' say RCMP

Fingers dialling a fixed phone.
Police agencies all over the country have issued warnings about the scam in which a fraudster poses as a CRA agent and tells the intended victim they owe money that must be repaid, and threatens to have them arrested if they don't pay up. (Gajus/Shutterstock)

A 62-year-old woman in Digby County, N.S., can't afford her medication after maxing-out her Visa to pay scammers who claimed to be agents with the Canada Revenue Agency 

Rhoda Tree has high blood pressure and a heart problem, she's under doctors orders to avoid stressful situations. 

Since Friday afternoon she's had more than her fair share of stress, that's when she received her first call from the bogus CRA agents.

The call came in from a strange number with a Florida area code. Tree said two men told her police in Digby had a warrant for her arrest, and that if she didn't pay off a nearly $8,000 tax debt that she and her daughter's health would be at risk. They didn't specify how their health would be at risk. 

Tree ended up spending more than $7,000 to try and pay off the scammers. 

"I was terrified, I didn't know what to do," said Tree. 

"It sounded so real."

It's not clear whether Visa will refund Tree's money.

CBC News has reached out to the credit card company for a response but has not heard back.

Fear outweighed her better judgement

Police agencies all over the country have issued warnings about the scam in which a fraudster poses as a CRA agent and tells the intended victim they owe money that must be repaid, and threatens to have them arrested if they don't pay up.

To pay off Tree's alleged debt, the fraudsters told her drive from store to store and instructed her to buy more than $7,000 in gift cards. Tree complied, reading the cards' redemption codes to the men over the phone, who immediately cashed them in. 

Tree said the men were tracking her location and gave her a badge number of an officer in Digby that would take her to jail if she didn't comply. 

"He said there were three lawyers in the courthouse in Digby waiting to sign the paper to get my name off the arrest warrant," said Tree.

She said she was skeptical but she said the threat of arrest outweighed her better judgement.

'I was just thinking, 'don't go to jail''

After giving up more than $7,000 in gift cards, the men told Tree now that the original sum was paid, she needed to pay an additional $12,000 to cover the price of three lawyers at the Digby courthouse who were waiting to take her name off a non-existent arrest warrant.

That's when Tree started to suspect she'd been had. After calling a friend who is a police officer to ask about any warrants for her arrest, she realized what had happened and called police. 

During the scam, the bogus CRA agents said they would call again on Monday morning.

RCMP investigating

When they did, it was an RCMP officer that answered the phone. The men called several times after that, from other strange area codes.

Tree said the men were uncooperative and hostile with the police, demanding the officer's badge number and hanging up suddenly.

"You hear about this kind of thing on TV, but never in the little town of Weymouth," said Tree.

"I feel so violated. I wasn't thinking straight, I was just thinking, 'don't go to jail.'"

Stay calm and think critically

RCMP said the CRA scam has become quite common in the province. 

"Scammers are using scare tactics to pressure victims to follow their specific instructions. Victims are being told to fear the police as there is a warrant for their arrest, and they will be taken to jail if they do not comply," said Digby RCMP in an emailed statement. 

"If you encounter a similar situation and you feel something isn't right, any reputable organization will not object to you asking for their contact information so that you can call them back," said RCMP

"Take the time to research, get advice including calling the police, and perhaps call someone whom you trust to help you."