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CRA scam calls are at an all-time high: what’s real and what’s fake?

January 29, 2021

Since 2014, millions of Canadians have been targeted by scam phone calls claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) or another government agency, demanding money for unpaid taxes or they’ll issue a warrant for your arrest. Receiving a phone call like this can be upsetting, and it’s hard to tell if you’re being contacted by an actual government agency for legitimate reasons.

Here’s what you should do to figure out if a call from the CRA is legitimate.

Will the CRA ever call me?

The CRA typically only calls you after they’ve sent you written communications, such as a letter or a message in a secure CRA portal like My Account, My Business Account, or Represent a Client.

If the CRA does call you, the most common reasons include:

  • You owe money;
  • You haven’t filed a return;
  • You’re being audited; or
  • The CRA has questions about the tax and benefit records or documents you sent.

How can I make sure that it’s actually the CRA?

There are a few things you can do to help make sure that it’s actually the CRA who is calling you:

  1. Make sure the caller is a CRA employee. Tell them you want to verify their identity before continuing your conversation and ask for their name, phone number, and office location.
  2. Hang up and call one of the following numbers to find out if the person who called you was from the CRA:
    • 1-800-959-8281 (individuals)
    • 1-800-959-5525 (businesses)

Once you verify the call was legitimate, you can start talking about what’s happening and why you’re being called.

During these phone calls, the CRA officer needs to validate your identity – as much as you may be suspicious of who they are, they also need to confirm who you are. They’ll ask for certain personal information like your full name, date of birth, or address – information people can easily find online (for example, on Facebook). They won’t ask for information about your passport, social insurance number, bank account number, health card, or driver’s license. If you get these questions, you’ll know it’s a scam.

Read (or listen) between the lines.

When you’re on the phone, the CRA won’t use aggressive language or threaten you with an immediate arrest or prison sentence. In addition, the CRA officer will never demand immediate payment by e-transfer, digital currency like bitcoin, prepaid credit cards, or gift cards like iTunes or Amazon.

Instead, if you do have outstanding debt, the CRA might request payment through any of their payment options, ask for financial information such as the name of your bank and its location (but not your bank account or credit card number), and might take legal action to recover the money you owe if you refuse to pay your debt. Remember, they’re 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 the official CRA numbers, or if the voice on the other end is robotic, you’re more than likely being targeted in a scam. When the CRA calls, it’ll be a real person on the other end who you can talk to, not a robot.

In an attempt to seem more legitimate, scammers can also change their caller ID to make it look like they’re calling form the CRA. When in doubt, ask yourself:

  • Did you file your tax return on time?
  • Did you receive a notice saying you owe taxes?
  • Is there a reason the CRA might be calling?
  • Are you confident this person isn’t a scammer?
  • Is the caller asking for information that you wouldn’t include in your tax return?
  • Are you being asked to make payments through unconventional methods like gift cards?

Beware of scam emails and texts, too!

In addition to phone calls, watch out for scam emails and text messages. The CRA never sends text messages, so if you receive a text about owing taxes or earning a refund, it’s fraudulent.

The CRA might reach out to you by email, but only to let you know when you have new messages on a secure CRA portal (like My Account) or to send you a link to a CRA webpage, form, or publication that you asked for during a call with a verified agent.

Remember to never click on links or give out personal and financial information through emails or text messages pretending to be from the CRA.

If you receive a call, email or letter that you think might be suspicious, or if you need help with your tax situation, you can always talk to an H&R Block Tax Expert. Find an office near you to book an appointment today.

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