India call centre crackdown targets CRA phone scammers
TORONTO – Crooks have raked in a fortune screaming at Canadians on the phone and threatening to lock them up for unpaid taxes, but a crackdown in India has had shocking results.
Reported Canadian losses in the so-called CRA phone scam have virtually evaporated in the weeks since the Oct. 5 crackdown, during which 70 people were arrested and hundreds more questioned at bogus call centres on the outskirts of Mumbai. Numerous call centres employing more than 700 people were dismantled.
“This scam has been a very profitable enterprise for these offshore fraudsters,” Sgt. Penny Hermann said Friday.
Over the nine weeks leading up to the operation, Canadians were losing between $26,000 to $190,000 a week to the scammers, she said.
Since then? The losses have fallen dramatically, to around $2,000 a week.
Police said employees at the call centres worked the phones, convincing unsuspecting victims to wire money for outstanding taxes they didn’t actually owe.
And Hermann said American citizens were also being duped.
The fraudsters simply “tailored” their pitch to the specific country, she said, explaining Canada Revenue Agency was replaced with IRS when calling the U.S.
Hermann warned the major blow against those fraudsters doesn’t mean phoney calls are gone for good — other crooks may slither into the space vacated.
She urged Canadians to “remain vigilant,” explaining similar scams have involved callers posing as immigration officials and police officers.
Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre statistics show roughly 37,000 Canadian homes received calls from fraudsters about back taxes or immigration matters since January 2014.
More than 1,900 Canadians have reported falling for such scams and paid out more than $5.7 million over that same period.
Hermann said it is especially “disheartening” to know the reported numbers are believed to represent just 5% of the actual losses because so many Canadians choose not to tell authorities when they have been ripped off.
“These fraudsters extort money from their victims through a number of different threats,” she said, adding anyone can be targeted at any time.
Such scammers also typically asked for fees be paid through a wire service, e-transfer, pre-paid credit cards, iTunes gift cards, and most recently “Steam” cards.
“The RCMP is in the process of tracking down a number of known Canadian-based collaborators and is seeking the assistance from the public in identifying other suspects who are residing here or abroad,” Hermann said, explaining it’s believed collaborators in Canada help collect funds for fraudsters abroad.
SO CLOSE TO BEING VICTIM
John Fullerton understands why so many Canadians have been conned out of their hard-earned cash by phoney Canada Revenue Agency agents.
The GTA resident nearly fell prey to the CRA scam himself earlier this year.
“The woman who called me threatened me with jail time,” the 60-year-old printer told the Toronto Sun on Friday. “That’s what got me nervous.”
“I just wanted to pay up and get them off my back.”
Fullerton’s ordeal unfolded back in March and began with a message on his cellphone telling him to call a number back immediately because he owed money to the CRA.
The woman he later dealt with, who identified herself as Alanna Parker, told him he had been audited and accused him of defrauding the government.
“She spoke English rather well,” Fullerton said, adding he now wonders if the woman was based out of a call centre in India.
The woman “sounded convincing” and made the matter seem so urgent that Fullerton didn’t stop to question whether she was actually a government employee.
He said the fraudster initially claimed he owed $3,471, but then offered to accept $2,100 to settle the tax issue.
Fullerton was directed to make a person-to-person wire transfer to a CRA officer named Joaquin Reyes, then the woman demanded he stay on the phone with her while he withdrew cash from the bank and made the payment.
He started to become suspicious when he was told to send the wire transfer to Seattle, Wash.
Then, just before he sent the money, a post office employee told him it sounded like a scam and warned him not to go through with it.
Fullerton said he is still grateful for that warning because it spared him from being duped.
He also understands why most victims of the CRA scam and other similar frauds don’t come forward.
“You can’t help but feel like an idiot for falling for it,” he said. “But you believe that you are dealing with the government, so you take it seriously.”
A LUCRATIVE SCAM
- More than 700 people worked the phones from numerous call centres in India.
- 70 suspects have been arrested so far for posing as various Canadian government officials.
- Losses in Canada leading up to the arrests ranged from $26,000 to $190,000 a week.
- Losses in Canada since the arrests have dropped to $2,000 a week.
- More than 37,000 Canadian homes have received calls demanding cash since January 2014.
- More than 1,900 Canadians have fallen prey to the CRA scam since January 2014.
- More than $5.7 million has been doled out by Canadians to CRA scammers since January 2014.
- Only about 5% of victims report the CRA scam so the actual losses are likely much higher.
— Statistics from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and the RCMP