Photo: Nate Brideau Local Tax Specialist with FBC works in his office on Portage Avenue. He recently helped a client deal with a scam artist trying to bill her with close to $5,000 of charges. Photo by Ruth Bonneville.
This story originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on Wednesday, October 28, 2015.
A closer look at one of the most popular phone scams in Canada
A couple of fraudsters trying to con a man out of $1,500 in an income-tax scam were instead fooled themselves by a Winnipeg tax specialist.
And now FBC, a farm and small-business tax specialist company Nate Brideau works for, wants to help other Canadians detect scams.
Brideau, a Winnipeg-based corporate tax specialist, was on his way for an appointment last month with Albert King, a client of the firm who owns a fishing company in Kenora, when King told him he had received a message to urgently call the Canada Revenue Agency.
Brideau, believing it was a scam, called the number himself using King’s phone and identity and played along with two fraud artists for more than 45 minutes in two separate calls — recording the entire conversations — before identifying himself and having the con artists hang up on him.
Brideau later admitted the scam artists were so experienced "even as a professional they had me thinking."
"If they get me questioning my own thoughts, it would be very simple for a person to get taken," he said.
In the phone call, a man who identifies himself as Shawn Woods starts by warning the entire phone call will be recorded for the CRA and the local authorities and told King he should not interrupt him but will be allowed to ask questions at the end.
"We found something unusual in the calculation of your tax filing," Woods says, noting the miscalculation is $4,785.
"We have strong evidence it was not an innocent inegregious (sic), but it was done on purpose to defraud the IRS.
"There are serious allegations against your name."
Woods says the CRA will be putting liens on King’s house, car, bank accounts, wages and will also seize his passport and driver’s licence.
Woods says if King tries to fight the case in court and loses, he will be liable to a fine of $95,000.
When Brideau says he doesn’t want to go to court, Woods transfers him to another man, Scott Schneider, who is identified to him as a supervisor.
Schneider says nothing can be done and the matter will be going to court the next day. He says the CRA tried to contact him several times by mail and phone but he either wasn’t there or didn’t respond.
"The evidence is against you," Schneider says. "For the sake of $4,785 you are getting sued for approximately $95,000... I don’t know what you will do. My job is done."
But then Schneider says if he can persuade CRA accountants King can pay $1,500 of the $4,785 penalty that day as a "good faith amount," he would be able to avoid court.
After the accountants agree, King is directed to drive to a nearby Money Mart and he is given the name of a CRA officer along with the city and postal code a person-to-person transfer form is to be sent to.
That’s when Brideau finally identifies himself as a tax specialist and questions the man why he is trying to scam money. The call ends almost immediately.
"We take our clients seriously and care for them," Brideau said.
"If I can become a thorn in them and make it for the benefit of others, I’ll do that."
Don Latchford, FBC’s director of marketing, said the company decided to give the Free Press access to the recording of the scam so when others get a call like it, they’ll recognize their methods and know it’s not the CRA.
"Never be afraid to hang up on a call like that," Latchford said.
"You can call the CRA back on the published numbers... no one with CRA would be offended if you hung up and it is really them."
Latchford said the CRA would never have a person pay outstanding taxes or penalties by sending it to an individual at the CRA or by using a money transfer service.
"As an organization, we find it heart-wrenching the extent people will go to illegally take money from other people," he said.
A spokesman for the CRA said it is aware of the scam and is working with law enforcement authorities to stop it.
Jeff Thompson, of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, also known as Phonebusters, said the tax scam has been going on for more than a year and is currently one of the most popular cons.
Hamilton said the between Jan. 1, 2014 and Aug. 23, 2015, they received more than 6,800 reports of extortion scams related to the CRA as well as Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
What’s worse, Hamilton said the scam had fleeced more than 400 victims of more than $1.1 million.
"It’s making the rounds across Canada," he said.
"We’re advising Canadians that the CRA will never call you and threaten to arrest... and they won’t request money over the phone."