Canada Revenue Agency scam targeting wider group of Canadians than in the past

An increasing number of Canadians are reporting calls from someone purporting to be the taxman who is clearly not.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre receives thousands of reports each year relating to the so-called CRA scam, in which fraudsters pretend to be the taxman. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

An increasing number of Canadians are getting a call from someone claiming to be the taxman, who clearly isn't.

And while many people will quickly realize that Canada Revenue Agency staff don't phone and threaten you with possible arrest, there are some people who may not pick up on the fact that a scam artist is on the other end of the line.

"Most of the people will listen to it and say: 'It's a scam' and will hang up. But there's that smaller group of vulnerable people in our society who unfortunately may fall prey to it," said RCMP Sgt. John Mecher in a recent telephone interview.

The goal in the so-called CRA scam is to get the victim to send them money.

Mecher said the CRA scam is considered an extortion fraud, as it involves the threat of something happening if someone doesn't pay.

And the threats can be anything from a supposed arrest to something far more sinister — like a threat to blow up the home of a person who said they would call the police.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre gets thousands of complaints about this scam every year and is getting more all the time — and not just during tax season. The calls are being received all over the country.

Sometimes there is a live voice on the phone, other times a recorded message may be involved.

Robert Beneteau, a retired autoworker from Amherstburg, Ont., recently got two such calls in the same day.

The caller, in a recorded message, claimed to be from the Canada Revenue Agency.

While Beneteau recognized the approach for what it was and reported it to police, he worries about anyone who may not come to that conclusion.

He worries that seniors might be at particular risk of falling victim to this scam.

"You get to a point in life sometimes [where] that big outside world is pretty scary and you decide that the best bet is just to do what they're telling you to do," he said.

Scam targeting 'just about anybody in Canada'

Yet Mecher said it's not only retired people and seniors who are getting calls like this, suggesting they are not the only targets.

Mecher said that when police first started seeing the scam, it seemed that seniors, new Canadians and visible minorities were being targeted. But the people receiving these calls is a now a much broader group than in the past.

"We've seen that basically just about anybody in Canada between the ages of 20 and 90 could potentially be on the calling lists of these folks," said Mecher.

It's not immediately clear how the scam artists are targeting potential victims. Sometimes the numbers being called are publicly listed. In other cases, it's a bit of a mystery how the numbers are being picked.

"What we're dealing with is a large-scale fraud organization and/or organizations," Mecher said.

Police are trying to keep the public from falling victim to these scams and public education is a big part of their prevention efforts.

The real CRA has tips on its website that the public can consult to help avoid being scammed. It also has examples of the kinds of messages and approaches these scam artists have been using when targeting Canadians.