Protecting yourself from the CRA phone scams

Just last week I received a voicemail from someone pretending to be a Canada Revenue Agency official. This person told me that liens were going to be placed on my bank accounts because I hadn’t “paid penalties for tax evasion.” The liens would happen “later today” if I did not call back and settle up.

This was a really scary voicemail. It raised my blood pressure! After a few minutes of controlled breathing, I decided not to call back. I didn’t want to be a victim of a fraud.

I was lucky – because I did not feel the full persuasive force of these scammers, who have been bedevilling and defrauding Canadians for the last month or so. Many victims have heard their own bank and credit card and other personal information read back to them. Surely the caller was a government official, no?

No, not a government official.

Chester Wisniewski, a friend of No Contest Communications and a researcher at Sophos, a global firm focused on network and computer security, appeared on the CBC yesterday to talk about these scams. Discussing the case of a recently scammed individual, Chester noted,

“The information the criminals had could really have only come from his own device. The amount of information they had is beyond what a bank would have, it’s beyond what the CRA would have. The only place that all that information exists would be your own computer.” …

According to Wisniewski, the con artists will often spend days gathering information they can use against their victims.

“They may be criminals, but they’re not stupid,” he said. …

Wisniewski said it’s crucial that people protect their information by using unique passwords for every online account. There’s software that can handle that, but keeping a handwritten list is another option.

He also recommends keeping all devices up to date, installing every software update as soon as it’s available.

And any time a call comes in from someone claiming to be with the government, police or a bank, Wisniewski says it’s best not to agree to anything and then call back on a verified phone number.

“Because somebody calls you and has familiarity with your personal life, does not make them in a position of authority, nor someone you know,” he said.

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