This article was updated February 26, 2021.

It’s a scam so routine, you can count on it like clockwork. You’re getting ready for the start of tax season, you get a call from an unknown toll-free number and someone claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) says your account is in arrears.

Since 2014, the infamous CRA phone scam has tricked at least 4,000 Canadians into giving up more than $15 million of their hard-earned money. Phishing attacks, tax preparer fraud and even fraudulent letters also find their way to potential victims every year, and the high stress of tax season means we’re not always as vigilant as we should be.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what these criminals are counting on. But you can stay one step ahead of them by being alert and keeping an eye out for these scams. 

Phone scams

The most well-known and notorious tax scam is the classic fake CRA phone call. However, the CRA really does call people, so how do you tell a CRA agent from a scam artist? Here are some signs

The CRA may

  • validate your identity by asking for personal information, including your address or social insurance number;
  • call to request payment in full or to discuss a payment arrangement;
  • send legal warning letters after initial attempts to contact you have been unsuccessful; or
  • take legal action to recover the money you owe if you refuse to pay your debt.

The CRA will never

  • ask for information about your passport, health card or driver’s license;
  • threaten with arrest, police or deportation;
  • demand an immediate payment;
  • ask for payment via prepaid credit cards, gift cards, Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies; or
  • collect or distribute payments through Interac e-transfer.

If you’re not sure if the person on the other end of the phone is a real CRA agent, don’t take the risk. Hang up and call the CRA back directly at 1-800-959-8281.

Phishing emails

Phishing emails—fraudulent emails seemingly sent from a legitimate person or organization—plague us all year round, but they’re especially common during tax season. Most people get at least one email promising a tax return if they just click this link.

However, the CRA will never send you a tax refund through email or direct deposit. If you get an email asking you to click a link, download an attachment or enter your personal information in exchange for your tax return, delete it right away, even if it has the CRA logo, header and footer. 

Mail fraud

While more common in the United States, mail fraud still happens in Canada, and it can be easy to fall for since most people don’t expect fraud via snail mail. In this scam, victims receive a letter seemingly from the CRA claiming they must immediately pay a tax debt or else face jail time or other legal consequences.

The CRA will contact you through mail. However, they’ll never demand immediate payment unless several previous requests were already made, and they’ll never threaten you with arrest. If you get a letter from the CRA that seems like it may be fraudulent, call them directly at 1-800-959-8281 to confirm.

How to stay safe

To keep yourself safe from fraud year round, follow these tips. 

  1. Beware of threatening language. Fraudsters prey on our emotions by invoking a sense of urgency. If you receive an email, letter or phone call using aggressive, threatening or urgent language, be immediately wary.
  2. Watch for the phish. Phishing emails can look legitimate—that’s why so many people fall for them. If you receive a suspicious email, stay skeptical, even if it’s from someone you know. Don’t click any links, don’t download any unexpected attachments and never divulge personal information over email. When in doubt, pick up the phone and call the sender directly.  
  3. Use complex passwords. To keep your online accounts safe, use a password at least 10 characters long consisting of a mix of letters, numbers and special characters, and never use the same password more than once. Instead of a password, many cyber experts recommend using a strong passphrase—a password composed of a sentence or combination of words like “Dannylovestoreadandwrite.” The longer your password, the harder it is to crack.
  4. File taxes securely. If you’re filing taxes online, be sure it’s from a secure website that starts with https. The “s” stands for “secure,” and any information sent over that connection is encrypted and cannot be read by hackers. If you’re filing taxes with an accountant or tax firm, make sure the tax preparer signs your return with their preparer tax identification number. 
  5. Protect your private documents. With so much of our information online, it’s easy to forget that a lot of paper documents contain our sensitive information, too. Take care with your T4s, paycheques, credit card statements and copies of tax returns. Securely store what you need to keep and shred what you don’t.
  6. Monitor your bank account, credit cards and credit report. Despite our most vigilant practices, we may still fall victim to fraud, and the best way to handle it is to catch it early. Keep track of your finances and credit, and if you see any suspicious activity, report it to your bank or credit card company. If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501.

As you get your taxes ready for filing, remember that some of your medical expenses may be eligible as a tax deduction. Learn more about how Alberta Blue Cross® can help you prepare for tax season.

Did you know that benefits fraud costs the Canadian health care industry up to $3.6 billion every year. At Alberta Blue Cross®, we’re dedicated to cutting that number down and keeping plans sustainable. Get all your questions about benefits fraud answered on our benefits fraud website. Dive into everything you need to know about benefits fraud including how it happens, what you can watch for and how Alberta Blue Cross® can protect your plan.

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