If you're one of our settlement clients and new to Canada then tax returns are an aspect of the culture here that takes a little getting used to. Everyone who exchanges their labour for money in the country has to file a tax return every March, although you are welcome to check whether there is some reason why you might be exempt. If you haven't filed a tax return before, or are a little unsure of yourself, then we offer free tax clinics to our clients throughout this month - just call us to arrange an appointment.
Sadly, whether you're new to Canada or not, the unnecessarily complicated and time-consuming administrative burden that tax returns are means that many people are a little bit vulnerable at this time of year. After all, who of Canada's 35 million inhabitants really understands tax law anyway? Who would want to? The fact is that very few Canadians are 100% sure what does and doesn't need to be declared in their tax return, what can and can't be claimed as a tax write-off, or even what all the forms that need to be completed are, by whom, and how. Tax is generally so bureaucratic that an entire industry has blossomed in Canada just to help people deal with this one specific issue. And regretfully, that same vulnerability also means that people can be prone to being defrauded.
This type of fraud differentiated itself as something tax season-specific this time last year. Clients from all our programs and projects started reporting to our counsellors that they were receiving phone calls at home, allegedly from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), that left them feeling upset, confused, and sometimes even threatened. Older clients of our Circle of Friends program were led to believe that they might lose their house or their pension, and clients of our settlement program were threatened with an abrupt and inexplicable deportation to their country of birth. In all cases, our clients were told that they had to divulge confidential or personal information over the phone, especially financial information, in order to avoid a tax-related disaster.
Now, thankfully none of those threats were legitimate, but the sad reality is that for as long as Canadians - and indeed humans in general - continue to use money, then crime and fraud as part of it will always follow swiftly behind. The problem isn't uniquely Canadian, or even North American. This year corporate media has already reported that those same fraudsters are again targeting Canadians, and with our client base including recent arrivals to Toronto as well as aged Canadians we wanted to warn people in advance.
Most importantly, take some time to read the CRA's own tips on how to spot a genuine phone call from a fraudster. Did you know, for example, that the CRA will never call you and ask you for financial information? It seems surprising since the subject matter is all financial but the CRA actually wont do that. You also might be surprised to learn that the CRA will never ask for personal information of any kind by email or text message, never request payments by prepaid credit cards, and never leave personal information on your answering machine.
Just knowing these basic facts about CRA's policy and how their staff conduct themselves will alleviate a lot of worry almost immediately. If nothing else, it will make those fraudster's calls stick out if you receive one. If you're feeling feisty then you can also strike back and help catch the crooks who are either trying to extort people, or threatening them with deportation. After all, this isn't the USA. Regardless though our counsellors are available to clients five days a week so if you've received a phone call or an e-mail, read the CRA webpage, but still aren't sure, then get in touch with us. We'll be happy to assist.