How phone scammers prey on fears of the taxman calling

The phone rings from with a call from an unfamiliar number and you answer it. On the other line is a man calling himself “Officer Jean” from the “crime investigation department.” He speaks quickly and in a foreign accent about your “CRA” and how you’re going to lose your passport and citizenship – unless you let him check your credit for the Canada Revenue Agency.

“The reason of my call is to make you aware that we have received a legal affidavit, a legal case file against your name,” he says. “Can you tell me, did you receive any phone call from a local state police department?”

Next he asks for your credit card information so he can “check your credit report on the affidavit. It’s free,” he says. “Do you want to resolve this matter or not?”

He’s insistent and aggressive, enough so that you might not notice the holes in his story – like the fact there is no “state police department” in Canada, and an affidavit has nothing to do with your tax return.

These were the actual lines used on a Canadian fraud victim earlier this year, in one of many recent tax season-inspired fraudulent phone calls.

Fraud expert and retired Sgt. Brian Trainor says phone scammers use aggression and fear tactics to steal information from Canadians year-round, based on stories cooked up based on events in the news.

“They tend to take the flavour of the day,” Trainor told CTV’s Canada AM on Tuesday. “They watch and they read, and if it happens to be tax time, it’s CRA scam time.”

Most Canadians’ tax returns are safely filed away at the CRA, but with the stress of that period still fresh on people’s minds, some are falling prey to telephone scammers claiming to represent the CRA.

Trainor says scammers put a lot of work into preparing their telephone pitches, looking up whatever information they can find on you, and loading their pitches with threats and intimidating legal language.

After listening to a recording of “Officer Jean,” Trainor said he noticed several common “red flags” in the fraudster’s cunning attempts to steal information.

“He’s very aggressive and he’s speaking very fast,” Trainor said. He adds that the scammer was throwing around legal-sounding words like “affidavit” in an attempt to “legitimize” his pitch.

“He’s using terms that the average citizen is familiar with, that have something to do with the law,” Trainor said. He says many Canadians will have only a vague understanding of what an affidavit is, and they can easily be intimidated into believing the fraudster’s frightening suggestions.

Trainor says fraudsters will likely start moving away from CRA scams now and attempt to capitalize on other events, such as the earthquake in Nepal.

“It’s going to be whatever disaster comes around,” he said.

Canadians have become more cautious about sharing information on the phone or through email in recent years, so many fraudsters have adapted to target victims through sites like Facebook.

“They mine social media for personal identification,” Trainor said.

Trainor says scammers who go after people’s personal information are usually part of highly organized criminal operations based overseas. And while social media is the newest scamming frontier, telephone scams can still be effective.

Telephone scammers use fake phone numbers and read from pre-written scripts, Trainor said. Once you’ve confirmed your name off the top of the call, they use that information against you and speak in generalities so that you fill in the gaps in their story.

He says it’s best to hang up on suspicious callers and notify the company they claim to represent. Trainor also advises against calling back suspicious numbers.

And, as a rule, never give out personal information over the phone, especially when you did not initiate the call.

Source: CTV Canada

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