OPP warn of phone scam hitting the Highlands
By Elizabeth Bate
It’s the “season of scams” according to OPP Sgt. Peter Leon, and Highlands residents should be alert to one in particular circulating the area.
Both the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre and the Minden detachment of the OPP have been notified of residents receiving phone calls from a man claiming to be a lawyer or representative for the Canada Revenue Agency. The caller claims the resident owes CRA money due to tax reassessment and threatens court action or other consequences, such as a home lien or poor credit rating if the owner doesn’t pay thousands of dollars immediately.
While warnings have also been issued regarding a similar email scam, the scammer in this new version can even provide a return phone number with an Ottawa area code in an attempt to appear legitimate.
“They’re taking the basic scam and twisting it to their benefit,” said Leon.
New technology has allowed perpetrators to copy legitimate phone numbers in an act called “spoofing.” When the copied number appears on call display it can both hide the caller’s actual origin and give the caller a way to appear authentic.
RCMP Corp. Josee Rausseau of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said the nation-wide scam relies on the use of several different numbers that are either temporary or spoofed, and that they keep changing.
Sarah Smith, a Haliburton County resident whose first name has been changed for this article, said the man who gave her an Ottawa area number to call back after threatening court action, answered when she and her lawyer called back in an attempt to get more information about the scam.
“He said if you don’t phone this number, you’ll end up in court,” she said.
Echo staff called the number on several occasions and received only hold music. On a third attempt to reach the number staff found it disconnected.
OPP Const. Dianna Dauphinee said the scammers do not need to be in Canada to spoof Canadian numbers. If the calls are originating in another country as Dauphinee suspects, it makes it hard to both stop the calls and arrest the perpetrators.
Smith was able to identify that the caller was a scam artist when he asked for her address and other verifying information, which a legitimate caller would already have. She took action by calling a lawyer to help her investigate the call and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to report the incident.
Dauphinee encouraged those getting calls or other communication they suspect are fraudulent to report them to take similar action and report them to the fraud centre and the OPP.
“Ideally we like to know the type of scams going on in our community,” she said.
Smith said the man who called her spoke in a heavy accent and was intimidating and belligerent, yelling at her in addition to threatening court action. She worries that other seniors in the area will be targeted and will be nervous in the face of such threats.
“Seniors would be the ones that would get hit first,” she said. “They live alone and they get a little bit afraid.”
Leon said seniors and other vulnerable persons are often targets of these kinds of scams, but anyone could receive a call.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, these are things that are all very near and dear to us,” he said.
Leon said the CRA will never call and threaten or intimidate those facing a tax reassessment. A letter will be sent, never a phone call or an email, and they will give those owing more money several repayment options that can be renegotiated if necessary.
Smith’s caller also claimed to have sent her a CRA “form 501.” Echo staff found the closest available form the CRA has to a form 501 is form IT501, which has been discontinued and relates to business capital costs allowances. This form would have nothing to do with a tax reassessment, nor would it be sent arbitrarily to residents.
Rousseau said criminals now have the equipment to make very convincing forms and letters to solicit money or add validity to their scam, but anything that seems like it is not right should be verified with the real CRA, who, as professionals won’t exhibit the behaviour of Smith’s caller.
“They won’t make threats. They are government employees and they do have a standard of work,” she said.
Warning against giving out even the smallest pieces of identifying information to unknown persons, such as a full name, address, or social insurance number, Leon said these are all small pieces of information that could lead to fraudsters obtaining credit cards or other funds through identity theft. While banks and credit reporting agencies are understanding of these situations and work with policing agencies to rectify the situation, it can take awhile to restore a victim’s credit rating, and missing funds may never be restored.
“Your golden years should be spent doing things you enjoy, not correcting the wrongs people have committed against you,” Leon said. “We never want to see anyone lose what’s theirs.”
Although it’s often hard to catch phone scammers, Leon said it does happen, but only when victims make a complaint.
“Usually what happens is they don’t make a complaint because they’re embarrassed. They’re ashamed,” he said.
In addition to being vigilant about their own information, Leon said family members should look out for each other to make sure everything is on the up and up.
Adult children of aging parents should discuss scams to reduce the chances they will fall victim, he said.
Those who suspect they have been contacting by someone misrepresenting themselves can report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501. Those who have been the victims of fraud should contact their local OPP detachment to register a complaint.