Tax scams are on the rise, so protect yourself with good information. Here’s how to know if a person claiming to be collecting on a tax bill from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is on the level, or a fraudster.

For years, Personal Tax Advisors has warned clients to disregard personal emails about tax refunds purporting to be from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

However it appears that scammers are stepping up their game from simple phishing, and have begun calling people, threatening them, and sometimes – terrifyingly – showing up personally.

How to Tell the Difference Between the CRA and a Fraudster

As mentioned, anyone who sends emails or text messages about your tax bill or refund is probably phishing. NEVER click a link in a message purporting to be from CRA. CRA’s emails are either general information, or ask you to log into My Account for specifics regarding your taxes. They never communicate via email or text message to discuss your taxes, and any email that contains alleged details — e.g. dollar amounts, or references to a refund — is always a scam.

CRA will never discuss your income taxes or refund via email or text

By contrast, CRA does sometimes call, but usually only after they’ve sent a good old fashioned letter or three.

Check out our video about spotting the difference between a scam call and the CRA

If a phone call is the first you’ve heard of this tax bill (and assuming you haven’t changed mailing addresses since you filed your taxes), be suspicious. The first contact you receive regarding a tax bill will always be by letter: typically a Notice of Assessment followed by one or more Statements of Account. Only then might the CRA decide to try you by phone.

A genuine CRA agent who contacts you should be willing to have you call them back or contact the CRA via the usual Individual Information line at 1-800-959-5525. The amount they claim you owe should be exactly, or very close to, whatever your last Statement of Account or Notice of Assessment said. They should not become aggressive, and should either accept your word as to when you plan to pay, or offer you a payment plan spanning several months.

The only acceptable ways to pay your taxes are directly through your bank, through CRA’s own online portal, or via a cheque made out to the Receiver General. No CRA agent should request or accept any other form of payment.

Never pay in the form of cash, cryptocurrency or prepaid gift card, and never make the cheque out to any other person or organization but the Receiver General of Canada.

That person at your door is not CRA

Even the most serious tax trouble is expressed almost exclusively on paper*, not in face-to-face contact. You could owe half the gross national product of Guam and still NO ACTUAL CRA AGENT WOULD EVER SHOW UP PERSONALLY TO COLLECT.

Remember that CRA is part of the government, and when they decide to play hardball, they don’t have to ask for money anymore. Asking is for chumps.

No, instead they’ll go ahead and freeze your bank accounts (after a series of polite warning notices, of course). They’ll contact your employer and siphon it directly off your paycheque. They’ll force your clients to divert payments to them. They’ll let everyone who matters know about your tax delinquency. Oh, you’ll know when the CRA is really and truly after you – and eventually so will all kinds of other people.

Run-of-the-mill fraudsters can yell and threaten all they like; but the CRA knows what it means to be scary.

Read CRA’s information about scams here.

* Ironically, most tax trouble can also be solved with paper – the right forms, the right information, the right letter – so give us a call if you’ve received a Very Scary Letter from CRA and we can help.