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Does the CRA Call You or Is This a Scam?

Victoria Morrison
Taxpayer taking a call

No, the CRA does NOT call taxpayers, except in rare cases. But it's a hot topic for many Canadians who've experienced or heard of a massive fake CRA call scam that's gotten a lot of attention and national news coverage since mid-September. More on that later.

Why would the CRA call me?

You should only expect a call from a CRA agent for very specific reasons, or about questions you've asked the CRA:

  • If you have an open case with the CRA and you've already been communicating back and forth about various issues, expect a follow-up call.
  • If you called the CRA for clarification about specific tax rules or requirements, such as tax deductions for car expenses, and the agent couldn't answer your question, a senior agent will call you back.
  • Owners of business accounts (sales tax, other taxes, payroll deductions) may get follow-up calls from an agent about ongoing issues.
  • If you use the Connect to an agent service to get more information on a topic, you'll get a call as soon as an agent is available.

How to call the CRA

The CRA's main phone number for individual taxpayer questions is 1-800-959-8281. Moreover, the website lists several other important CRA phone numbers.

  • CRA main phone number for individual tax enquiries: 1-800-959-8281. Call this number during business hours to reach a live agent for any personal tax questions such as checking your balance and income tax return, RRSP and TFSA limits, etc.
  • CRA Individual Tax Account Balance Automated Service: 1-866-474-8272. If a live agent isn't available, call this number to get basic, real-time information about your tax account balance and when you made your last payment.
  • CRA main phone number for businesses and self-employed: 1-800-959-5525. Call this number for questions about sales tax, tax returns for corporations, registering for a GST/HST number, etc.
  • If you sign up for My Account online, you'll have full access to your CRA account. You'll be able to check unpaid tax balances, see your payment history, your deduction limits, T-slips and other data.

If someone called you demanding tax payment, you can be sure it was a fake CRA agent or message, since the CRA never makes or allows this kind of call. However, if you're worried, first check if you owe the CRA money by calling an agent during business hours.  Alternatively, check your account information online or through CRA's automated phone system day or night. You'll have to log in and identify yourself to view or hear your CRA account balance. Whenever you contact CRA, your account information and balances are real-time and up to date. They will be accurately shown under My Account or MyBusiness Account.

Does CRA use automated calls?

No, CRA does not use automated calls under any circumstances. Plus, CRA agents don't leave any personal information of any kind on messages. In fact, the CRA rarely calls taxpayers. If you get a call or a voicemail message that sounds like a robotic pre-recorded message claiming to be from the CRA, it's a scam for sure.  According to CRA information, the CRA will never:

  • Contact you with a prerecorded message claiming you owe money to the CRA, threaten police action or ask you to call a number to settle your tax balance.
  • Make threats or use aggressive language over the phone, demand payment during a phone call or in a message.
  • Tell you to pay what you owe using bitcoin. Bitcoin is an untraceable crypto-currency that criminals use for extortion and money laundering.
  • Accept payments using bitcoin, prepaid cards (iTunes, Steam, Google Play, etc.) or wire transfer (Western Union). Namely, the CRA only accepts payment in Canadian dollars by cheque, through a bank payment system, by credit card or via PayPal.

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How to protect yourself from CRA call scam

Over the years, CRA call scams have taken on different forms, using emails and links to steal your personal information or credit card number.  The current fake CRA automated and live call scam is epic in proportion. It's so widespread that dozens of underground call centres in India have reportedly contacted hundreds of thousands of Canadians over several years. A recent CBC Marketplace report shed more light the scam, which targets Canadian taxpayers with fake demands for taxes owed.  For at least 3 years, Canadians have been getting calls. CRA states on its website that it doesn't leave personal information on messages, threaten taxpayers or demand payment over the phone. CRA also publishes extensive information on protecting yourself from fraud.  According to CBC, thousands of taxpayers have sent criminals in India an estimated $10 million so far. One of the victims interviewed in the CBC report used all his savings and then borrowed from relatives to pay the $100,000 demanded.  It isn't clear whether the RCMP has been effective so far, but media and public pressure prompted Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to issue a statement claiming the Mounties have been working with Indian authorities since 2016. Recent efforts led to call centre raids in India following the CBC broadcast.

Why is the current CRA call scam so effective?

Affected were a record number of Canadians: 60,000 have reported the scam to authorities and many more contacted. Why have these criminals been so successful at deceiving Canadians for so long? The fear of having problems with tax authorities is one reason, but there are others:

  • Most people don't look forward to hearing from the CRA except when it's about a tax refund. But getting a threat by an agent over the phone and told to pay "or else" is downright shocking and intimidating. Some people will pay immediately to avoid the prospect of arrest or seizures that the fraudsters play on.
  • Vulnerable people are more likely to comply with a fraudster's demands. CBC reported that "the victims are often the elderly or immigrants to Canada." Immigrants from countries where citizens fear imprisonment, torture or extortion, may be more likely to respond to a CRA scam.
  • People whose first language isn't English, and those who don't understand government procedures, might be more easily persuaded to pay.
  • Besides impersonating CRA agents, criminals can fake their call display name and number, so it looks like a local phone number or even a real CRA or RCMP phone number. Known as "caller ID spoofing", this form of hacking fools people into believing the calls are from numbers in Canada.

This RCMP news release explains some of the newer tactics fraudsters used in the Northwest Territories, such as demanding victims purchase gift cards and then send them the serial numbers.

How to report scam CRA calls?

If an incoming scam CRA call demands payment and you want to report it, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre¬†online or call 1-888-495-8501 during business hours.  If you're a victim of fraud, you'll need to report it to your local police. Most police forces have cyber-crime divisions that deal with online crimes. You may get a case number and follow-ups from cyber-crime specialists in your area.

What should you do if you get a CRA call demanding payment and threatening arrest?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Hang up, ignore, erase. The CRA rarely calls taxpayers, let alone to demand payment on the spot or threaten arrest or jail time. Hang up. It's a scam.
  • Don't call any phone number sent to you to settle tax amounts owing. If you're unsettled, call the CRA on their main number (1-800-959-8281). Then check if you owe them any money, or use their online or automated phone services.
  • Screen your calls. Answer calls from numbers or names you recognize and let the others go to voicemail. Check for messages later. Ignore anything that seems suspicious. It's a radical solution, and it may not work for you.
  • If you get a lot of calls for business and call screening isn't an option, you can safely ignore prerecorded "robocalls" and scam CRA messages in your voicemail.
  • If you do owe the CRA money, you definitely won't get harassing calls from the CRA. You'll get a notice of assessment delivered by Canada Post and through your CRA account online. Rest assured, the CRA won't send police to arrest you at home or at your office if you have a balance owing!

If you're self-employed and file your taxes late, CRA will send you several reminders by mail before taking more serious action. Despite potential penalties and interest, CRA won't call you.  If you have any doubts about whether you owe the CRA any money, call an agent or check your balance by phone or online.

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