Most Canadians live their lives with only very infrequent contact with the tax authorities and are generally happy to keep it that way. Sometime between mid-February and the end of April (or June 15 for self-employed taxpayers and their spouses) a return must be filed by the taxpayer and a Notice of Assessment is then issued by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). In most cases, the taxpayer will receive a tax refund by direct deposit to his or her bank account, while in a minority of cases the taxpayer will have to pay a tax amount owing on or before May 1, 2023.
Sometimes, however, the process does not play out in quite that way. In some cases, the CRA will have questions about information reported on the taxpayer’s return – perhaps an income amount reported does not match up with the amount reported to the CRA by the payor of that income. In other cases, the taxpayer may have claimed a deduction or credit, and the CRA wants the taxpayer to provide them with the receipt or other documentation to support that deduction or credit claim. In both cases, the CRA may contact the taxpayer to resolve the discrepancy or to obtain the information needed to finish processing the taxpayer’s return. In some cases, that contact will occur before the CRA issues the Notice of Assessment with respect to the taxpayer’s return, while in others it will not take place until after the Notice of Assessment has been issued.
While no one particularly likes hearing from the tax authorities, it is critical that the taxpayer respond to any enquiry from the CRA. Failing to do so will mean, at a minimum, that the processing of one’s tax return will be delayed; or worse, a claim made on the return will be denied because the taxpayer has not responded to requests to provide the CRA with supporting documentation.
The problem which arises for the taxpayer is determining whether a communication received is in fact a legitimate request from the CRA or is part of a scam, phishing, or fraud attempt. Scams in which fraud artists claim to be from the CRA have become ubiquitous over the past decade or so, to the point that almost everyone has (or knows someone who has) received a fraudulent communication purporting to be from the tax authorities and requesting information from the taxpayer.
In an effort to address this issue, the CRA recently posted on its website a guide to how to distinguish legitimate queries received from the Agency from scams or phishing attempts. The Agency’s goal is two-fold: the first, of course, is to help taxpayers avoid becoming yet another victim of such frauds, and the second is to prevent situations in which taxpayers ignore legitimate communications from the Agency, having dismissed them as just another phishing attempt.
To help taxpayers verify that a contact is legitimately from the CRA, the Agency utilizes a number of strategies and security measures. First, any initial contact from the CRA will be by way of letter or phone call. The CRA does not send or receive emails pertaining to confidential individual tax matters. It also does not contact taxpayers by text message or on any social media sites. Taxpayers who have not signed up for the CRA service My Account will receive a letter from the CRA by regular mail, or will receive a phone call. Those who have signed up for My Account will be able to access any letters or electronic communication from the Agency on the CRA website, but only after signing into My Account. My Account, like all of the CRA’s sign-in services, now requires multi-factor authentication.
Where an unsolicited contact from the CRA to an individual taxpayer is by telephone, it can be difficult to determine whether that unfamiliar voice on the telephone is in fact a CRA employee. Any legitimate CRA employee will identify themself when they contact a taxpayer and will provide that taxpayer with their name and phone number to call them back, if needed. (Taxpayers should be aware that relying on call display to verify the source of the call is not a good idea, as scammers have been able to manipulate that technology to display what looks very much like, or even the same as, a legitimate CRA phone number.)
The Agency suggests that where there is any doubt about the identity of a caller claiming to be from the CRA, taxpayers consider taking the following steps to ensure that they are, in fact, speaking to a CRA employee.
- Tell the caller you would like to first verify their identity.
- Request and make a note of their:
- phone number, and
- office location.
End the call. Then check that the information provided during the call was legitimate by contacting the CRA. It is important to do this BEFORE providing any information to the caller.
Not infrequently, a taxpayer will contact the CRA through one of its individual or business tax help lines, which are answered by call center agents. Each of those telephone services offers an automated callback service – when wait times reach a certain threshold, the taxpayer is given the option of receiving a callback rather than continuing to wait on hold. Where the taxpayer chooses the callback option, he or she is provided with a randomized four-digit confirmation number. The CRA call center agent who returns the taxpayer’s call will repeat that number, so that the taxpayer can be certain that it is a CRA employee who is calling.
Finally, there are some actions which, if taken by anyone purporting to be from the CRA, should lead the taxpayer to immediately end the telephone call, including the following:
- the caller does not give you proof of working for the CRA, for example, their name and office location;
- the caller pressures you to act now, uses aggressive language, or issues threats of arrest or sending law enforcement;
- the caller asks you to pay with prepaid credit cards, gift cards, cryptocurrency, or some other unusual form of payment;
- the caller asks for information you would not enter on your return or that is not related to money you owe the CRA, for example, a credit card number;
- the caller recommends that you apply for benefits:
- do not provide information to callers offering to apply for benefits on your behalf;
- you can apply for benefits directly on Government of Canada websites or by phone.
In addition, a CRA representative will never:
- demand immediate payment from the taxpayer by any of the following methods:
- Interac e-transfer,
- Cryptocurrency (Bitcoin),
- Prepaid credit cards,
- Gift card from retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, or others;
- ask the taxpayer for a fee to speak with a contact centre agent;
- set up a meeting in a public place to take a payment from the taxpayer;
- use aggressive language or threaten the taxpayer with arrest, deportation, or sending the police;
- leave voicemails that are threatening to the taxpayer, or that include the taxpayer’s personal or financial information; or
- send an email or text message with a link to the taxpayer’s refund.
While scams and frauds and their perpetrators have been around for literally centuries, changes in technology mean that most taxpayers are now accustomed to and at ease with conducting much of their personal and financial lives online, making it much easier to carry out such deceptions. And even newer technology, like artificial intelligence, poses additional threats for the future. In such an environment, the taxpayer’s best protection is to take whatever steps are needed to verify the legitimacy of any unsolicited contact received with respect to matters of tax or personal finances. Doing so is no longer just prudent, it’s a necessity.
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.