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Lisa Gittens“They were so convincing that in minutes I had gone to the corner store, bought $500 worth of prepaid credit cards and read the numbers to a voice at the other end of the phone.”

A client shared this story with me nearly in tears, which were a combination of anger and embarrassment. Over the past six years, scammers pretending to be from the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) have cost victims over $18.5 million through increasingly sophisticated and high-pressure tactics.

Some scams include telling victims that they have warrants out for their arrest, or that the police will be dispatched following the call.

While some scams may seem obvious, it can still be challenging to tell if you’re being contacted by the real CRA for legitimate reasons. Of course, the CRA contacts people all the time for reasons such as owing money, missing tax returns, to initiate an audit or to simply ask questions about a return. Therefore, people need to determine if the call is real or not. Here are some tips on how to protect yourself if you do in fact get contacted from someone claiming to be from the CRA:

  • The first form of communication is written. The CRA typically only calls after you’ve received written communications.
  • If the CRA does call, take the time to verify it’s actually them. If you do receive a call, make sure the caller is a CRA employee. Tell them that you want to first verify their identity before moving forward. Ask for their name and agent I.D. It’s even recommended to hang up once you’ve obtained their name and agent I.D., and call back using one of the official CRA numbers to verify the legitimacy of the caller. Once you have verified the call was legitimate, you can start having conversations around what’s happening and why you’re being called.
  • Pay close attention to language. When on the phone, the CRA will not use aggressive language or threaten you with an immediate arrest or prison sentence. If the tone and language seem off, you could be getting scammed. Remember, the real CRA is trying to sort out your tax situation, not send you to jail.
  • Trust your gut. If it sounds suspicious, it probably is. If you receive a call or voicemail threatening legal consequences, urging you to call a number other than an official CRA number or if the voice on the other end is robotic, you are more than likely being targeted in a scam.

Whether via phone or email, the CRA will not ask you for immediate payments, will not ask you for your financial information or demand payments be made by e-transfer, bitcoin, prepaid credit cards or gift cards.

In the grand scheme of things, the $500 my client lost in the scam isn’t going to damage their finances, but some people don’t get off as lucky. Just remember, you’ll always be able to confirm the validity of the call, and you’ll always have time to check with your tax expert to form the best plan of action to deal with any CRA situation.

Lisa Gittens is a Senior Tax Expert for H&R Block Canada.  

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