Beware of scammers asking for bitcoin payouts this tax season: fraud watchdog

Beware of scammers asking for bitcoin payouts this tax season: fraud watchdog

Canada's fraud watchdog says scam activity tends to increase during tax time, and warns Manitobans to be on the watch for sketchy situations.

"Generally in the past we've seen an influx of scams surrounding tax season. In the form of phishing email, like it's coming from the CRA: 'congratulations, you have a refund,'" said Jessica Gunson, spokesperson for the Canadian Ant-Fraud Centre.

But now those same scams are showing up as unsolicited text messages, she said. 

"It looks like an Interac email money transfer, it looks like you have a refund from the CRA," said Gunson. "The key to remember here is the Canada Revenue Agency would never email you or send you a text message to notify you of a refund."

Another scam becoming more frequent is where the caller tells the victim they owe money for back taxes and if they don't pay it off, they could be arrested.

Some new Canadians are even told they could be deported if they don't pay up. "This is a scary call for them to receive," said Gunson. 

She says scammers sometimes tell people to pay off their 'back taxes' in iTunes gift cards or even bitcoin, demonstrating how willing scammers are to utilize new technology — which also makes it harder to follow the money.

"There was a file that [recently] came through, the individual was told to send $5,000 [in bitcoin]," said Gunson, who added the person avoided being defrauded thanks to a well-placed warning. 

"There was actually a notice on top of the bitcoin ATM warning them about this scam. And that person, they were able to kind of step back and go 'Wait a second,' and didn't lose the money."

However, another person lost $200,000 to the same bitcoin scam, said Gunson. 

If someone does fall prey to these scammers, the best thing to do is report it to the centre as well as the police, she said, even if the victim is ashamed of what happened.

"There's no embarrassment. They should never feel ashamed because they've fallen for a scam; they're not alone," said Gunson. "Our phone rings here day in and day out from consumers that have lost money."

Only about five per cent of victims report their losses to the centre, said Gunson. Which is a shame because the more reports they receive the easier it is for the centre to track trends and issue warnings.

"Sometimes it's just a one-off piece of information that helps connect the dots."

Gunson said she'd like to see more financial literacy skills taught, especially to young people, to help prevent these kinds of scams in the future.

"If every Canadian recognized a scam, would delete the email, delete the text, hang up the phone, it would stop scammers in their tracks," she said.