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Tax scams on the rise in 2017

Police advising to be aware of scams as holidays approach

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

It’s labelled as the most wonderful time of the year, but it is also likely the busiest, and the hustle and bustle of the holiday season can leave some residents more susceptible to becoming a victim of the many scams being perpetrated by criminals in the community.

According to Durham Regional Police, fraud investigators are once again seeing a rise in the efforts to scam residents out of money under the guise of the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA).

Close to home, a Clarington man was recently taken for $17,000 by such a scheme.

The victim said he was contacted by an individual claiming to represent the CRA who said he owed $12,000 in back taxes.

After sending that money, he was further instructed to purchase $4,000 in gift cards to cover the costs of withdrawing his arrest warrant.

These types of incidents are too familiar to Jessica Gunson, an intelligence researcher and analyst with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, the country’s central watchdog of fraudulent activity.

Gunson says it’s too early to tell if fraud will increase over the holidays, but the centre’s data shows the number of scams have seen a significant increase as 2017 continues on.

In October 2016, the takedown of a fraud call centre in India led to a drastic decline in the number of reports made to the Anti-Fraud Centre.

In fact, the number of complaints dropped from 3,579 in July 2016 to only 61 in December.

However, since the beginning of this year, complaints have steadily risen upwards, jumping from 209 in January to 1,111 in October.

Overall in 2017, the Anti-Fraud Centre reports 576 victims have lost more than $2 million through CRA scams, with more than half of that activity taking place in Ontario.

Gunson notes the most targeted demographic for CRA scams are those between the ages of 50 and 69. Residents between the ages of 30 and 79 are responsible for 71 per cent of complaints made to the Anti-Fraud Centre for this specific type of scam.

A typical CRA swindle will involve a call to a resident from somebody claiming to be with the organization.

The caller will inform the victim their account is in arrears and if immediate action isn’t taken, they will be arrested.

Victims are usually directed to send cash, a money order, e-transfer or purchase gift cards as a means of payment.

The scammers will often attempt to sound legitimate by making reference to an account or personal information.

Gunson acknowledges that people may be more likely to fall for CRA scams because it involves a government organization.

“Scammers have long used the names of legitimate financial institutions and government bodies to lure potential victims,” Gunson says. “Consumers may act without stopping to think if a real government organization would conduct business in this manner, and as a result, many realize they’ve been scammed after they’ve sent money, a prepaid card or digital currency to the scammers.”

Police warn criminals may tell victims someone has hacked their account and need help catching the culprit.

“They say they’ve deposited a certain amount of money into your account, and all you have to do is wire a portion of it to a number provided,” a media release from DRPS states. “Of course, no money is deposited, and the funds often end up in another country never to be seen again.”

In the case of the Clarington victim, police say the man indicated he co-operated for several reasons, including that the call came from a 1-800 number, the caller cited a lengthy RCMP case file number and arrest warrant ID, and he was told there was a discrepancy between his income and expenses.

Potential victims are asked to keep in mind scammers can be very aggressive and extremely convincing.

“It’s important not to engage them, hang up the phone and report the incident,” police warn.

Det. Pat Waters of the DRPS Major Crime Unit says the best way people can protect themselves is to be educated about scams and fraud.

“We want residents to spread the word about the scams,” Waters says. “Make sure you are telling friends and family members, especially seniors that these calls are fakes.”

To report fraud locally, contact DRPS at 905-579-1520. To reach the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, call 1-888-495-8501 or visit http://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca.