Toronto

Toronto woman's CERB payments on hold after fraudster makes EI claim in her name

A Toronto woman is one of hundreds of Canadians who’ve had their identity stolen and used to apply for government benefits over the course of the pandemic. The wait for fraud investigations to be completed means many are not getting any benefits at all.

More than 700 reports of identity fraud linked to CERB received by Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre

Tamara Kater has spent upwards of 60 hours on the phone trying to get her CERB benefits back since a fraudster applied for employment insurance in her name in June. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

A Toronto woman is one of hundreds of Canadians who've had their identity stolen and used to apply for government benefits over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For music manager Tamara Kater, the fraud means that she has no idea when she'll get her next Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) cheque. She's already been waiting seven weeks for the federal government to complete its fraud investigation into an employment insurance (EI) claim made in her name. 

Kater was already receiving CERB payments, so an EI application for being laid off from a job at Walmart — where she's never worked — made it look like she was trying to double dip. 

Now she isn't getting any benefits at all. 

"No one can tell me when it will be resolved," Kater said. "No one can give me an estimate of time, whether it's weeks or months — and it's all just unsettling."

So far she's missed two months of her $2,000 CERB payments, which has meant borrowing money from friends to pay her rent. 

"The music business is not going to come back to life in a week or two," Kater told CBC News. "So I do need those benefits to help me survive."

Kater isn't alone. 

More than 700 reports of ID fraud linked to CERB

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says it has received more than 700 reports of identity fraud linked to CERB across the country.

More than half of those reports came from Quebec, another 172 were from Ontario, and British Columbia rounds out the top three provinces with the most reports at 52. 

The Canada Revenue Agency began accepting applications for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) early this spring. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The taxable benefit for workers who lost their income because of COVID-19 was originally supposed to last four months, but the financial support was extended for an additional two months.

The CERB identity fraud scam doesn't mean Kater and others have lost any money — the Canada Revenue Agency has noted that those eligible for CERB will still receive the missed payments — but it does mean the benefits they've been relying on are put on hold until an investigation is completed, and their identity is confirmed. 

Kater says despite efforts by her MP's office, there doesn't seem to be a way to speed up the process. 

No mechanism to resolve claim quickly

"There is no kind of express lane," Kater said. "There's just no mechanism in the EI system to clear a fraudulent claim quickly — so even though my file has been escalated to a national team, the national team can't resolve it quickly."

Even if the identity fraud doesn't involve an investigation into a fraudulent EI application like Kater's does, getting CERB benefits back isn't necessarily a quick fix. 

Nicole Hooper's CERB account was hacked at the end of June. 

A fraudster changed her direct deposit information to a bank in Ottawa and then made a claim for a first round CERB payment.

The mother of five lives in Quispamsis, N.B., and was still working in finance when the CERB benefit rolled out in the spring. Hooper's job has since been eliminated due to COVID-19. 

Nicole Hooper says her mother and ex-spouse have helped her support her five children while she waits for her CERB account to be unfrozen. (Submitted by Nicole Hooper)

So far the hack has meant she's missed one CERB payment, and will be behind another if her account isn't unfrozen soon. 

'A lot of people can't survive without that money'

"I'm a very proud person," Hooper told CBC News. "I don't want to have to take the help from other people, but I do need to think of my children first, and make sure that they have what they need." 

Hooper says she's lucky because so far she's been able to rely on savings and support from her mother and ex-spouse. 

"A lot of people can't survive without that money," she said.

"It is stressful for me, I couldn't imagine someone who doesn't have a support system to help them." 

Hooper is still waiting on the CERB program to review her proof of identity documents that she sent in three weeks ago. 

"When I was calling to find out if they had received my identification documents they said they had a huge influx of people sending them." 

CRA working on fraud cases 'as quickly as possible'

In a statement, the CRA told CBC News it is prioritizing fraud and identity theft calls. 

"We understand many applicants are eagerly awaiting their next payment and how important it is for them to have their situation resolved in a timely fashion," the statement said.

"We are working hard to complete our validation work as quickly as possible." 

"I wish that the government would respond more quickly to close some of the loopholes and put more human resources towards the fraudulent part of this," said Kater. "I don't want to see more government money going into the hands of fraudsters."

Kater and Hooper have no idea how fraudsters got their personal information. 

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says it's normally obtained through phishing scams or data breaches. 

If you think you've been a victim of identity fraud connected to CERB, the federal organization urges you to report it to your local police service. 

About the Author

Nicole Brockbank

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nicole Brockbank is a reporter for CBC Toronto's Enterprise Unit. Fuelled by coffee, she digs up, researches and writes original investigative and feature stories. nicole.brockbank@cbc.ca

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