Fraudsters are getting better and better at scamming people, in some cases they use a person’s emotions to get the job done.
For one Ponoka resident, the scam became all too real when con-artists called her cellphone and demanded she make back-taxes payment or risk losing her job.
Called the “iTunes Scam,” Brenda Munce found herself speaking with a man who called himself Mark, claiming to be with Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) demanding she pay up or lose her job and face jail time.
The call came in the middle of her work day.
“Once they had me on the line, once I asked more questions then they knew how to play in the emotions,” said Munce.
She told the caller that she would call her lawyer and go to the courthouse to deal with the issue, but within 15 minutes, he was able to bring her emotions up and create a sense of panic.
“At one point they said that I wouldn’t have a job, that if I hung up on the conversation that there would be an arrest warrant within 45 minutes,” said Munce.
These threats, coupled with aggressive communication, were all that was needed to set Munce on edge. The man claiming to be Mark had a strong East Indian accent, says Munce, and it turns out he most-likely lives in India.
The scam is an organized one; Munce said she could hear other callers in the background talking with other victims.
She was told to leave the phone on and was even chastised for telling her boss that she had to leave. “As I got confrontational, they even got more aggressive with me.”
“They said I was being recorded.”
Mark demanded $2,500 in iTunes gift cards but rather than say “iTunes,” he spelled out what the name to cause further confusion.
Any reasonable questions by Munce asking if this was a scam was replied with a strong “No” and then followed by further threats. He demanded she buy gift cards in $100 denominations.
“They told me this was a mass-audit by the Canadian government,” said Munce.
The first place she went to was to No Frills where there were not $100 cards, the caller said $25 and $50 would suffice. Munce bought the cards and was then directed to another person where she asked Munce to read out the registration details of the cards.
“He said, ‘You make sure to tell nobody and that this is a personal issue,’” explained Munce if someone at the store were to ask questions.
This group was relentless. After Munce bought $2,000 worth of cards, then spent the next 20-minutes reading out the card identification numbers, the callers demanded another $2,000. They had played with her emotions enough that Munce was scared if she were not to follow through.
This time she went to Rexall and purchased another $2,000 worth in $100 cards, and provided the card identification numbers. The suspects again demanded more money, claiming their calculations showed a need for more. Luckily Munce was close to the RCMP detachment. Rather than give in to their demands, she walked into the office in tears and was immediately assisted.
A member of Ponoka Victim Services went on the phone to call Apple and provided the registration cards details to cancel the purchase. Just over $1,000 was halted. However, Munce says Apple will not pay the loss, the stores have to.
Munce says it may be some time before she sees the saved $1,000; the rest is gone.
After dealing with the police, Munce said the callers continued a relentless barrage of calls to her cellphone and while she was able to block the phone number, it changed at times. She even resorted to yelling at them.
“You know what they tell me? They love me,” said Munce.
As these callers are most-likely from another country, there is little the RCMP can do in terms of charges.
Canada’s Anti-Fraud Centre states that in 2016 alone there have been 46 complaints involving iTunes cards for payment with losses totalling $85,000. The most common approach has been to impersonate the CRA.
How to protect yourself
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.
More information about fraud scams involving the CRA: www.cra-arc.gc.ca/scrty/frdprvntn