How to not fall victim to a tax scam

April 21, 2022by Akmin

It is a sad fact that, every year, thousands of Canadians become the victims of scams in which fraud artists claim to be representatives of the federal government. Equally sadly, in most cases the money lost is never recovered.

While fraud has always and will always exist, this time of year provides a perfect opportunity for scams, particularly those involving our tax system, for a number of reasons. First, of course, it’s tax-filing season, a time of year when receiving communications from the tax authorities wouldn’t strike most Canadians as being out of place, or suspicious – and when, in fact, the tax authorities do communicate with taxpayers for valid reasons. Second, most tax returns filed by individual Canadians result in the payment of a tax refund. Consequently, receiving an email or other communication indicating that the CRA has funds which are owed to you wouldn’t necessarily strike most recipients as a scam. As well, over the course of the past two pandemic years, many day-to-day financial dealings have had to be managed online or by phone, opening up opportunities for fraudsters to misrepresent themselves as government officials or government websites. All in all, it’s a perfect storm of opportunity for scammers and fraudsters.

Generally, there are two basic ways in which tax fraud artists prey on taxpayers. In a scam which has been around for years, if not decades, a telephone caller falsely informs the taxpayer that he or she owes money to the Canada Revenue Agency and that immediate payment must be made. A failure to pay, the taxpayer is told, will mean seizure of his or her assets, cancellation of his or her passport and/or social insurance card or other government-issued identification, deportation, or imprisonment. Further, such payment must be made only by wire transfer or pre-paid credit card or cryptocurrency. In a second type of scam, which is more common at this time of year, the taxpayer is contacted by e-mail or text and advised that he or she is owed money by the federal government. In order to receive the money owed, the taxpayer must click on a link in that e-mail or text. The link leads, not to a federal government website, but to a “dummy” site very closely resembling the actual Canada Revenue Agency website. The taxpayer must then, in order to have his or her “refund” processed, provide personal and financial information which can then be used by the tax scammer. A taxpayer may also be contacted by phone, told falsely that he or she is owed money by the CRA and asked to provide details – like a bank account number – so that the “refund” can be deposited to the taxpayer’s account.

There are, in fact, several things about such communications that should alert the recipient to the fact that they are not legitimate. First of all, if a taxpayer does owe money to the CRA, or is owed money by the CRA, he or she will be first advised of that fact in the Notice of Assessment issued by the CRA for every tax return that is filed – and never by telephone, email, or text. Second, the CRA would never suggest or require that a taxpayer send funds to the Agency by wire transfer or by using a prepaid credit card or cryptocurrency, and would never ask a taxpayer to click on a link in an email or text, or to provide financial details over the phone. Payments of money owed to the CRA are made online, through the CRA website, through the taxpayer’s financial institution (in person or online), or by mailing a cheque to the Agency. Any payment by the CRA to the taxpayer is made by direct deposit to a taxpayer’s bank account (using an already existing direct deposit arrangement), or by cheque, which is sent to the taxpayer by regular mail. Finally, any suggestion that the CRA would (or could) cancel a taxpayer’s passport or other government-issued ID for failure to make payment is simply ludicrous.

Although these scams are well known (and new ones appear frequently and are noted on the CRA website at, many such scams originate outside Canada, limiting the ability of the CRA and law enforcement authorities to monitor or stop them. For the most part, therefore, the onus will fall on individual taxpayers to protect themselves through a healthy degree of caution, even skepticism. At the end of day, the best protection from being scammed is being aware of the methods by which the CRA will (and, more importantly, will not) contact a taxpayer – in other words, being able to recognize when a scam attempt is being made.

The CRA suggests that, in order to avoid becoming a victim of such scams, taxpayers should keep the following general guidelines in mind.

A legitimate CRA employee will identify themselves when they contact you. The employee will give you their name and a phone number. Make sure the caller is a CRA employee before you give any information over the phone.

If you’re suspicious, this is how you can make sure the caller is from the CRA:

  1. Tell the caller you would like to first verify their identity.
  2. Request and make a note of their name, phone number, and office location.
  3. End the call. Then check that the information provided during the call was legitimate by calling the CRA’s individual income tax enquiries line at 1-800-959-8281.

Similarly, where a caller claiming to be from the CRA leaves a voice mail the taxpayer should, instead of returning that call, call the 1-800 number above. Service agents at that line will be able to access the taxpayer’s tax records and provide accurate information on whether the Agency is indeed seeking to contact the taxpayer and, if so, for what reason.

Taxpayers should note as well that seeing a CRA 1-800 number or an Ottawa area code on their call display does not necessarily mean that the call is from the CRA. Scammers have been able to use technology to show false numbers on call display, as part of their attempt to seem legitimate.

Red flags that suggest a caller is a scammer include (but are not limited to):

  • The caller does not give the taxpayer proof that the caller works for the CRA – for example, their name, phone number, and office location.
  • The caller pressures the taxpayer to act now or uses aggressive language.
  • The caller asks the taxpayer to pay with prepaid credit cards, gift cards, cryptocurrency, or some other unusual form of payment.
  • The caller asks for information that the taxpayer would not enter on a tax return or that is not related to money which the taxpayer owes to the CRA – for instance, a credit card number.
  • The caller says that he or she can help the taxpayer apply for government benefits. Such applications are made directly on Government of Canada websites or by phone – no one should give information to callers offering to apply for benefits on the taxpayer’s behalf.

Ironically, the extent to which most individuals are now comfortable transacting their tax and financial affairs online or over the phone, and the speed and anonymity of such transactions, has made it easier in many ways for fraud artists to succeed. As ever, the best defence against becoming a victim of such fraud artists is by refusing to provide personal or financial information, and especially never to make any kind of payment, whether by phone, e-mail, or online, without first verifying the legitimacy of the request.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.