Online and telephone scams are a serious threat to everyone and to communications in general these days. And they are getting more effective all the time.

Usually, online and telephone scammers are phishing – seeking information they can use to pilfer money from bank accounts, extort payments from people or to order products in ‘your’ name that they can then sell to make their illicit gains. And, as more journalists are pointing out, these scammers are getting much better at their schemes. Their online entreaties are now free of most spelling and grammatical mistakes and the look of their websites and forms mirror the look of legitimate suppliers like your bank, retail stores and even the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

In fact, the scammers are sometimes better than the real providers leading to situations like this:

A friend of our’s received a telephone call from someone purporting to be from the CRA. Knowing that he has no problems with his taxes (done by an accountant), he treated the caller, almost immediately, with a barrage of rather nasty language and a hearty hang-up.  It had been one of about a CRA call a week he was fielding from obvious off-shore call centers – the kind where you wait 20 seconds for the caller to say something while you listen to a jabber of background voices dunning other victims.

About a week later, our pal received a letter. This one looked phony as hell.  The type didn’t fit well on the page and looked rough. The bottom return address and telephone information was jammed together and came close to running off the page.  Yet, there was something about the letter. It referenced the early telephone call and gave the name and number of a CRA agent.

Our friend isn’t dumb enough to call a number provided in such a missive. He looked up the number of his local CRA office at the CRA’s website, checked that number with information he had on his tax forms and with Bell information.  Finally, he telephoned the verified, real CRA.  He was transferred to the agent named in the letter who had a minor question to ask.  Sure enough, this one call out of several dozen phishing calls was from the CRA. Our friend explained his earlier hang-up but didn’t apologize for his language.  The CRA agent admitted his agency was used regularly by the scammers and that this was a ‘problem.’  Our friend figures the CRA deserves a bit of rough language if they can’t fix their own problems with scammers.  If anyone could put in effective safeguards, it’s this agency!

Don’t misunderstand; our friend likes the CRA and has found them highly competent, friendly, concerned and even compassionate. However, he despises the hackers and scammers. He wishes the CRA would find ways to frustrate the crooks – cleaning up their own letters might help – because he hates the idea of people being threatened into sending money to phony tax agents in various havens of criminal call centers.

The moral of this story is that crooks are out there using even the name of the Canada Revenue Agency to con victims – and they are harming the reputations and the communications of legitimate organizations as they do it.  It’s time, not only for everyone to be extra cautious, but for the organizations and governments to take giant steps to stop these bad actors.