Online scams, phone scams and even hackers getting into online accounts can ruin your financial security, so staying on top of the latest scams is important. (Pixabay photo)

COLUMN: Catching CERB fraud in the act a lesson in staying secure

With new scams and internet fraud constantly a threat, it’s important to stay on top of accounts

Somehow, in some mysterious way, someone got themselves into my tax account online.

It happened while I was holding my cell phone, the only place I’ve accessed the account. I received an email, a valid one from the Canada Revenue Agency, informing me that my email address had been removed from my file and I would no longer be getting email notifications.

Strange. I didn’t make that change.

Then as I logged in, the first thing I noticed was that two months worth of the CERB was being sent to my bank, for a total of $4000. That would have been great news, if I qualified. Even better if I had applied for it. But I didn’t. No, this was definitely a problem.

Sure enough, my email address had been changed just slightly enough that I may not notice.

I immediately started calling CRA phone numbers and eventually got through to their anti-fraud department. I’d been hacked. I knew it, and after a brief look through my account, the agent knew it too. Even the direct deposit information had just been changed, in preparation for that illegal pay day.

Thankfully, and only because I had the email alerts set up to notify me of any changes, I was able to stop the transaction from going through, save Joe Taxpayer a few grand (you’re welcome), and save myself the trouble of having to backtrack weeks or months from now to prove I didn’t fraudulently apply for benefits. Frankly, I’d rather remain broke than have this financial headache.

READ MORE: Crime Stoppers warning of COVID-19 related scams

The agents I spoke with quickly stopped the payments and turned off my online account entirely.

But the question still remains as to how this happened. I thought the Government of Canada tax accounts were pretty rock-solid safe. Have you ever lost your own username or password? Getting back in is not a simple task.

Well, it turns out that this is not as uncommon as you’d think, the agent told me. It’s a common problem as fraudsters find ways to abuse the generosity of the government during the pandemic. But the key to stopping the fraud in its tracks is to have those email alerts set up, and to check on your account regularly to watch for suspicious activity.

I have my fingers crossed that they were single-minded thieves, only looking for the quick CERB payouts and not bothering to collect my tax information and other personal data. But only time will tell.

While I search for answers as to just how someone found their way into my account, I thought it best to warn others of the basic steps to protecting yourself I was reminded of today. This is just one in an ever-growing list of ways people with nefarious minds are scamming individuals, businesses, and even the government out of money.

So, check over your accounts, and visit the Canada Revenue Agency’s fraud centre online for tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of financial fraud.

And to report scams, go to antifraudcentre.ca or call 1-888-495-8501. If you think you may be the victim of fraud or you unknowingly provided personal or financial information, contact your local police service, financial institution, and credit reporting agencies, the CRA advises.

And while this hasn’t to me, text message scams are also becoming popular. They advise that if you get a text message saying you received a deposit for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, then it is definitely a scam. Do not reply or click on the link, delete the text and warn others.

READ MORE: Chilliwack RCMP seeing surge in telephone-based tax scam


@CHWKcommunity
jpeters@theprogress.com

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