Ottawa hit hard by CRA fraudsters
Phone scammers swindled Ottawa victims out of $37K in June alone
If you've received a threatening phone call from someone claiming to work for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), you're not alone.
Ottawa was a hotspot for the phone extortion scam last month, with fraudsters swindling eight victims out of a total of $37,200, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC).
Despite efforts by authorities to warn the public about the extortion scam, last month's spike is just the latest sign that phone scammers continue to find victims.
Over the past 12 months, scammers claiming to represent the CRA have made off with a total of $78,180 from 22 Ottawa residents.
Robert Rochefort, a fraud analyst with the CAFC, said fraudsters are taking a shotgun approach, targeting one region after another.
Using automated diallers, scammers will call every number in a given area code, then move on to a different region.
"They're targeting every phone number that they possibly can, simply in hopes of getting somebody that calls them back," Rochefort said.
So far this year the CAFC has received more than 13,000 complaints about the scam, and 865 victims across Canada have been defrauded of just under $4 million.
The centre believes fewer than five per cent of victims report the fraud, indicating the full picture is likely much worse.
Fraudsters a step ahead
The call typically consists of a recorded message claiming that the would-be victim is facing a lawsuit, and demanding they call back immediately or face arrest.
"The difficulty with stopping this is, of course, if a phone line is shut down, it only takes a few minutes to reopen a new one," Rochefort said.
Scammers have also shifted their tactics in an effort to extort even more money from their victims, he said.
With some companies now placing dollar limits on prepaid cards, fraudsters are increasingly demanding that their victims pay through cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.
Scams here to stay
CRA spokesperson Paul Murphy urges people to be cautious when receiving an unexpected phone call from someone claiming to represent the agency.
"When we do call you, we're not going to threaten you with immediate arrest, we're not going to say that there's a warrant out for your arrest or that the sheriff is on his way," he said.
The agency may contact taxpayers by phone, but only after having a sent a letter to notify them of any debt owing.
Anyone who receives a suspicious call from someone identifying themselves as a CRA representative should notify both local police as well as the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501.
People concerned about the security of their personal tax information can also contact the Canada Revenue Agency general inquiries line at 1-800-959-8281.