Government imposters prey on Canadians during the pandemic

Robocalls and individual calls coming from India have declined drastically over the last several months

ONE of the most common scams in Canada involves callers pretending to be government officials. However, in 2019, Better Business Bureau (BBB) saw a sharp decline in reports about scammers impersonating the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). For the first time in several years, the CRA / tax scam did not make the BBB list of Top 10 Riskiest Scams. A recent BBB investigative study found that complaints about fake calls from Service Canada increased in the first six months of 2020. Scammers use fear and intimidation to trick victims into turning over personal information or money, often in the form of gift cards or cryptocurrency.
Many of these scams involve robocalls that are transferred to call centres in India when an interaction takes place. Imposter calls from India must first go through a “gateway carrier” that often provides spoofed phone numbers that appear on caller IDs and return phone call numbers for voicemails that appear to go to locations in Canada.
The study explains that scams have become more diverse and sophisticated. Many scammers have taken advantage of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by posing as the Public Health Agency of Canada, our local BC Health Services officials, CRA representatives who expedite economic impact payments and contact tracers employed with local government agencies.
“Government impostor scams are constantly evolving. Using persistence and intimidation tactics, they prey on people with threats of being arrested if money is not paid or personal information is not provided,” says Karla Laird, Manager for Community and Public Relations at BBB serving Mainland BC. “Consumers need to know how to recognize and avoid this costly fraud.”
In some cases, scammers insist they are law enforcement officers and threaten to arrest people immediately if they do not pay money, usually with gift cards or cryptocurrency. They may tell consumers that their Social Insurance Number (SIN) has been compromised, associated with a crime, and may threaten to deport recent immigrants or arrest people for improper filing of their taxes. Other scam callers lure victims with the promise of a “free” government grant, which they claim will be awarded if the victim pays a fee with a gift card, bitcoin or prepaid debit card. In reality, there is no grant. 
A Vancouver resident recently reported their experience to BBB Scam Tracker:
“Got a call saying that there has been an arrest warrant issued by the Government of Canada because my identity was used for drug trafficking and money laundering in Toronto. They said I had to move my money to a safer location so they could freeze this account and help me out. So I followed their instructions and sent everything I had by cryptocurrency. They stole $3500 and my SIN”.
Collaborative efforts by Canadian and US agencies have been helping to fight these fraudulent schemes. Robocalls and individual calls coming from India have declined drastically over the last several months. However, the study notes that cases are rarely prosecuted in India. BBB recommends that the telecom industry maximize efforts to stop illegal calls and to end caller ID spoofing; that law enforcement continue to take action against scammers who are physically present in North America; and that the gift card industry and retailers should explore additional ways to stem fraudulent use of their products.
How to complain about government impostor scams:

  • Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or online.
  • Contact your cellphone carrier, which may offer free services such as scam call identification and blocking, ID monitoring, a second phone number to give out to businesses so you can use your main number for close friends or a new number if you get too many spam calls.

The investigative study — Government Impostor Scams: Reports Decrease, Scammers Pivot for New Opportunities — highlights the risk of this common but costly fraud. Read the full study at bbb.org/fakegov.

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