Last week I had a brief scare that my wife and I had become the latest victims of identity theft, and worse, that it was my own fault. Luckily it was a false alarm, however determining so with full confidence proved to be quite the challenge.
Chain of events:
- 9:30pm –>I receive a voicemail message from someone claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Collections Office. They mention to call back immediately about an outstanding balance and have my SIN # ready (they said they are open until 11pm).
- 10:00pm –>Having received a similar legit call in the past, and having paid my personal taxes on time, I decided to call back to figure out what is going on and am greeted with a bilingual CRA message. I provide my SIN# since I know CRA uses this # as ID, even though previous work with organizations involved in Identity Fraud had embedded in my head to never give this number over the phone. After a brief discussion that seemed legit enough, I was told that CRA never received my payment. I simultaneously go to my online banking, pull up my transaction history and find, as expected, that a payment was indeed made on time, and it did go out to CRA. The call rep said that perhaps it went to my wife somehow and that he would need to speak with her and also get her SIN# . At this point something just didn’t feel right in my gut but I still didn’t act on it. I remembered learning that the SIN# alone can’t be used for much, however in this case he already had mine, the number seemed legit (I’ll get to that in a second), and so far no other personal information was mentioned. The call rep on the other hand had correctly mentioned the amount I remembered owing at tax time. For this and a bunch of other reasons (i.e. having to attend to my 2 year old son) I handed the phone to my wife, quickly explained the matter, and told her I’ll be right back.
- 10:15pm–>My wife handed the phone back to me and said that all was solved, the money had accidentally been placed in her CRA account and the agent was going to transfer it to my account and reverse any interest charges. The agent proceeded to tell me that it will take 5-10 days to appear on my account and that all was now good. I said thanks and hung up.
- 10:16pm –>My wife immediately suggested exactly what I was thinking, which is that we had just fallen victim to a fraudulent scheme to obtain our SIN#’s address and general tax info. A sense of panic and shame kicked in for me.
- Next 3 hours:
- I hop on the CRA website and find a prominent notice warning Canadians of ongoing fraudulent CRA calls and emails (not a good feeling at that moment).
- I google the number on my call display (1-800-959-2250) to find a flood of forum posts mentioning the word SCAM and FRAUD in caps (heart sinks)
- I check the CRA website listed numbers and notice it is nowhere to be found.
- In a half panic, I start dialing my bank to freeze our financial accounts (all CRA call centres were closed), but something told me to hang up, breathe, and look into this a bit further.
- I scour the internet for posts about this number and actually read them in detail. I notice an odd mix of opinion. Some people are saying it’s legit, others are saying it’s a scam, and others still are saying that the people saying it’s legit are the scammers themselves. These posts are ongoing over the last 6 years!
- I then find this lone CBC Article on the topic from 2009 that gave me hope. And since it was about the exact 1-800-959-2250 number, I decided I’ll call in the morning when the 1-800-O-Canada call centres open up.
- In the morning, I called 1-800-O-Canada and asked whether or not this number was an official GoC number. They did not know. Instead, they said to call CRA.
- I call CRA, explain the situation and am put on hold. They cannot tell me directly if that particular number is legit, however by asking me questions about the nature of the call and by verifying my CRA account activity from the previous night, they determined that it was indeed a legit call from their collection agency. I decide that is good enough confirmation for me , thank them and hang up.
Why am I writing about this?
I just can’t seem to wrap my head around as to why it is that even though this exact issue was written about as far back as 2009 , the CRA still can’t directly confirm the 1-800-959-2250 number as being legit by displaying it on their website. Instead the most prominent message is a warning about fraudulent calls. Based on the amount of forum posts about this alone (try googling that exact number), I’m pretty sure that the amount of people not writing about it online yet still unnecessarily panicking like my wife and I did must be enormous.
Basic service delivery here on part of the CRA would entail:
- Ensuring CRA staff and 1-800-O-Canada reps are in the know as to the official numbers used by CRA-approved collections agencies.
- Ensuring CRA-approved collections agents follow a consistent proactive approach to verify their own identity.
- Display each number used by CRA-approved collections agencies on the CRA website (there should be a number verification tool of some sort)
Especially in lieu of all the scams going on these days, is that really too much to ask? Am I missing something here?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I received the following email yesterday from a CRA agent wishing to remain anonymous. It would be much better for something like this to be posted as a key message on their website, however in the interim, at least people coming across this post may see it.
“Just read your blog post from last year and wanted to give you the reason to why you could not find or had trouble finding out whether or not the 1-800-959-2250 is/was legit. As you would know now it is a legit number but that it is also an unlisted number. Why? Don’t know. On the CRA website one has to go to the Payment and Filing Arrangement Phone Numbers to get the listed number but there is no reference to the number that agents must leave on messages and provide to taxpayers.