At this point, I’m used to getting 2-3 calls per day with an automated message saying I’m going to be arrested if I don’t pay my taxes. I usually hang up before it gets to the end if I answer at all, but I know they say I must immediately speak to an agent to square up my balance owing.
I’ve never clicked through to speak to an agent and I’m still not in jail, so it’s clear these calls are fake. I personally find them almost comical in their threats and desperation, and now am only annoyed they happen so often. However, I know many Canadians have fallen for them.
These calls have been problematic for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for years.
I like to think I’m too smart to fall for financial scams. After all, I’ve been working in personal finance for 10 years, I know money inside and out. I never stop telling people about what a scam Amway is.
But its exactly that type of arrogance that can be your downfall.
Thinking you’re immune to being conned means you’re less likely to be on the lookout for something suspicious. The entire nature of a scam is to be tricked. Assuming you can’t be fools means you’re less likely to realize when you already are.
How I fell for a CRA Scam
Money After Graduation is an incorporated with staff, including myself, receiving fixed salaries. Like most businesses, our revenue was hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. We qualified for some of the business supports under Canada’s Emergency Response Plan.
Our company is currently receiving payroll support through the Canada Economic Wage Subsidy (CEWS). This benefit covers up to 75% of your payroll costs in order to help your business survive the downturn caused by the pandemic.
I remit my company’s payroll expenses like EI, CPP, and income taxes to the CRA every month, rather than quarterly as most businesses do. I imagine this is the reason they have never called me to confirm my CEWS application details: they can see clearly the numbers I put in my application match what they receive each month.
However, the CEWS application is constantly changing, and in August it was more in-depth. I was fairly confident I put in all the correct information, but I figured the CRA was digging more deeply into applications to prevent fraud. I expected a call to confirm my bank information and Social Insurance Number (SIN) to release the funds to my company.
When you submit a CEWS application, you are told the CRA will call to confirm your banking information and other identifying information to ensure you qualify. Sure enough, a call came 2 business days after I submitted my application.
I missed all the signs this was a scam call from a fake CRA agent
When I answered the phone, a woman claimed to be calling from the CRA about my CEWS application. She provided her first name, but no agent number. She asked for my business number to confirm my CEWS eligibility.
It was 7:30am and my morning was hectic. I was trying to feed my toddler and get her dressed for daycare. The number on my phone said Hamilton, Ontario. The caller was 2 hours ahead of me and undoubtedly comfortably settled into their child-free work morning.
I apologized to the agent for the noise and chaos in the background. She sounded so nervous on the phone. I assumed she had been dealing with rude people all day.
I like to think if my 3-year-old wasn’t singing “Baby Shark” at the top of her lungs, I would have been more attuned to the red flags to recognize this call was a scam. However, in the frenzy of my morning and because I had been expecting this call, nothing seemed amiss.
I tried to sit down at my desk to start pulling up the business details she was asking for, but as soon as I left the room my child was in she started yelling for me.
“Can you call me back in 2 hours?” I asked the person on the phone. They agreed and hung up.
A real CRA agent tipped me off that my morning call was from a scam artist
I got my child ready for daycare and settled into my day. By the afternoon, I still hadn’t heard anything from the agent so I called and left a message on an automated voicemail. An hour after that I started to worry that I wouldn’t receive my CEWS payment this month, so I called the CRA.
The agent that answered my call immediately said their agent number. I remember thinking how weird that was. The woman on the phone this morning hadn’t done that!
He asked for my business number and pulled up my file. He told me there were no notes or requests for additional information to receive the CEWS.
I explained to him that the person this morning insisted they needed more details to release the funds. That’s when he started asking me more questions about the call: did they state their agent number? did they threaten legal action if you don’t provide the details immediately?
He said he could not say with certainty whether it was a real or fake call because I had cut it so short and not disclosed any information. But it seemed unusual since there were no notes on my file.
After our call, I hung up and dialed the number that had called me this morning. It was disconnected.
How to Recognize a CRA Scam
It’s crazy to think if I didn’t have a wild 3-year-old to manage in the mornings, I may have handed over all the financial details of my company to a scam artist. “Baby Shark” may be the most annoying song to ever torment parents, but it may have saved me tens of thousands of dollars.
I was completely rattled by how easily I had been tricked by a scam artist. I thought scams were obvious. The con artists who have called me before pretending to be CRA agents were always clumsy and disorganized. This person had seemed so professional.
Because of this, I will forever be more vigilant and protective of my personal and business financial information. I was never careless about it, but this experience identified that I’m more vulnerable than I thought. You might find you are too.
Here’s how to recognize a scam CRA call:
- A real CRA agent is required to provide you with their full name and agent number
- The CRA will never use aggressive or threatening language
- The CRA will never leave aggressive voicemails
- The CRA will never demand immediate payment by eTransfer, prepaid credit card, gift cards, or cryptocurrency
- The CRA will never ask for information about your passport, health card, or drivers license
What do do if you’ve identified a CRA scam
I’m lucky I didn’t lose any money to the scam artist that called me. But that’s all it was: luck.
If you do find yourself contacted by a CRA scammer, you need to report it. The CRA is doing its best to crack down on these fraudsters, but they have a long way to go.
Despite feeling that there’s no end in sight for these scam artists, arrests are being made. And the CRA is making a concerted effort to educate Canadians so they’re less likely to fall for these. I’m hoping sharing my story does the same!