Spotting tax season scams

March 18, 2024
Adult woman using mobile phone.
CRA scams can happen by phone, text, mail or email. Watch out for aggressive language and suspicious links or forms demanding personal information.

Scammers are especially active during tax-filing season, and many Canadians find themselves targeted by criminals posing as representatives of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Let’s discuss some common scams and helpful tips to help protect your information from fraudsters impersonating government and law enforcement agencies. 

The story often follows a familiar path. First, there’s an unexpected telephone call, email or text from someone claiming to be a government official or police officer. The scammers often demand immediate payment for an unknown debt, promise a sizeable tax refund, present an enticing tax scheme or direct you to a fraudulent link intended to steal personal information. They might try to legitimize themselves by sharing identifying information about you or offering a fake badge number. They might even have spoofed telephone numbers, so your caller ID makes them appear genuine.

Red flags for taxpayers

To ensure you don't fall victim, watch out for these five red flags of a tax season scam:

  1. Using aggressive, pressuring or threatening language.
  2. Asking for personal or financial information.
  3. Offering to apply for a benefit on your behalf.
  4. Requesting payment through e-transfer or gift cards.
  5. Receiving a link or attachment from an unknown sender.

The CRA will never demand immediate payment by e-transfer, cryptocurrency, prepaid credit cards or gift cards. Furthermore, CRA call centre agents won't ever threaten you with arrest or deportation. 

Visit the federal government online to learn more about what to expect when the CRA contacts you.

The SIN scam

This tax season, Canadians are seeing yet another new scam. This scam typically involves a text message claiming to be from the CRA, containing your name and personal information — sometimes even your social insurance number (SIN) — and a demand for payment. It’s believed that these fraudsters are capitalizing on individuals who were previously involved in a data breach.

If you’re unsure whether a legitimate party is calling, emailing or texting you, always break contact and reach out to the official phone number for that organization. Also, if you’ve received a request you didn’t expect for personal information or payment, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone you trust to discuss it. Sometimes, even a few minutes is enough time to break the spell a skilled scammer can conjure up.

Adult man holding smartphone and credit card.

Be wary of “tax promoters” discouraging you from speaking to the CRA or from reaching out to another tax professional for a second opinion.

Beware of tax schemes

In addition to fraudsters reaching out to demand payment or personal information, Canadians are being targeted by tax schemes, which are plans or arrangements that violate Canadian tax laws. These schemes are usually fronted by so-called “tax promoters” who charismatically attempt to recruit victims by promising large tax deductions or tax-free income.

When faced with a tax preparer who is promising an unusually large refund, be very careful, and get a second opinion from a reputable tax professional. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

When to contact the CRA

You should contact the CRA specifically if you:

Along with contacting the CRA, all fraud should be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) to assist law enforcement with investigations.

The CAFC estimates that less than 5 per cent of fraud victims report their experiences. While it can feel uncomfortable, it’s important to always report fraud. Anyone — regardless of age, gender or education — can fall for a scam.