At least four St. Albertans have fallen victim to an old scam that has a new name.
Known as the “iTunes scam,” fraudsters have been able to swindle hundreds, if not thousands of dollars out of their victims by ordering them to purchase iTunes gift cards, which can then be sold online and quickly turned into cash.
Scammers typically contact victims by phone or text message, impersonating Canada Revenue Agency employees. The callers claim victims owe “back taxes” as the result of an audit and they must pay up immediately to avoid being fined or arrested.
Although the fraudsters have different approaches and tactics, they will always ask for either credit card numbers, social insurance numbers or iTunes card numbers, says Const.Yelena Avoine with St. Albert RCMP.
“(The) CRA would never ask those questions, would never get payment via iTunes cards and furthermore, they would never send the police to arrest someone.”
Since the end of June, St. Albert RCMP has received seven reports of CRA-related scams.
In three separate incidents since June 21, St. Albert residents purchased $2,000, $4,000 and $3,600 worth of iTunes gift cards respectively, as requested by scammers. One victim was told that they still owed the CRA money and was defrauded another $4,000 after giving scammers their credit card number.
Scammers told one victim they required a credit card number to refund money from the CRA. The victim was instead charged $21,500.
In three cases, victims reported to police before any money was lost.
Victims ranged in age from 29 to 80 years old.
Since January, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has received 46 complaints about the iTunes scam, which has cost victims across Canada at least $85,000.
The fraudsters are using extortion and terror tactics that are new to the Canadian public, says Daniel Williams, senior fraud specialist with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. They are hostile towards their victims, threatening them with immediate arrest, hefty legal fees and deportation.
“If you are believing any part of this, it’s really scary stuff,” he notes. “The scammers can pick up immediately when they have a believer on the line. They want to upset you, they want to keep you upset, keep you rattled and keep you in a state of panic.”
Once they establish a connection with their victim on a landline, scammers will ask for a cellphone number. This keeps them constantly in your ear and ties up any means for you to communicate with others about the scam, explains Williams.
“On top of everything else, is the indignity. These poor victims thank these stinking scammers for the opportunity to hand over money to them. It’s horrific.”
As much as consumers need to be aware of mass marketing and identity fraud schemes, so to do vendors, say RCMP.
“The retailers should definitely be watching out. If someone attends a store to purchase $2,000 worth of iTunes cards it should be a big red flag,” says Avoine.
Warning signs of the iTunes scam
• If you are asked to pay for any service or product with an iTunes gift card, don’t do it, it’s a scam.
• Ask yourself why the CRA would be asking for payment through an iTunes gift card over the phone or text message when they already have you on file as a taxpayer.
• Contact the CRA to confirm that you in fact owe back taxes, or are entitled to a refund, before providing any personal or banking information.
• If you have lost money or are suspicious of the personal or financial information (related to a fraud of scam) that you have provided, call St. Albert RCMP at: 780-458-7700
• If you have not lost any money and have not provided personal or financial information, and you simply want to inform the appropriate organizations, report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by calling 1-888-495-8501 or using their website: http://www.antifraudcentre.ca
– Courtesy of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre