OTTAWA — Tax scammers used aggressive techniques to bilk more than $15.2 million from Canadians' pockets in the past four years, but the RCMP isn't warning those who don't speak English or French about the practices.
RCMP officials told reporters in Ottawa this week that education is the best means of protecting oneself from fraudsters masquerading as Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) or Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada agents.
"We know we haven't provided a lot of this information in different languages, which could be one of those issues we need to work on to get that messaging out," RCMP Supt. Peter Payne said.
The number of people who speak an immigrant mother tongue increased between 2011 and 2016, according to the most recent census data. More than 6.3 million people in Canada speak 22 mother tongues, excluding English and French. New immigrants are among the most targeted demographic for tax scams, according to the Better Business Bureau.
Watch: Ontario man calls back CRA scammers to 'waste their time'
Posing as CRA agents, the phone scammers typically threaten individuals with arrest, imminent legal action, a warrant for arrest, or deportation if they don't transfer money to account numbers provided by fraudulent call centres.
These scams also reach potential victims randomly through emails and text messages. "The CRA never sends out text messages. Any text message from the CRA is a scam," warns a two-page RCMP fact sheet.
Officials say young people are particularly vulnerable, especially first-time tax filers who may not know the difference between legitimate and scam CRA messages.
Payne said the RCMP "will probably" review launching a multilingual awareness campaign. In the meantime, he encourages Canadians to talk to friends and family to spread awareness about the scams. "Try to find out more about this on your own," he added.
The RCMP have shuttered three call centres in India in recent weeks, targeting overseas scammers who impersonate CRA agents. Equipment was seized, as well as a spreadsheet with the information of more than 600 Canadians. Authorities used it as an example of successful collaboration between Mounties, Indian authorities, and some partners in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
International effort to shut down call centres
It's not the first time Canada has worked with international counterparts to go after overseas scammers.
In 2016, a joint operation with Indian authorities led to the arrest of 70 people, plus 12 in Canada. Authorities also closed a 750-seat call centre in India, which immediately and temporarily reduced the number of reported CRA scams.
But this year, the number of reported scams have significantly increased.
Victims reported $2.4 million in losses in 2015, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. In the first six months of 2018, reported losses have cost victims nearly $4 million. The spoke has prompted the RCMP to launch a new investigation.
Project Octavia is the RCMP's newly expanded national operation to combat scammers. It's purpose is spread a prevention message and to lead to the "takedown of as many call centres in India as possible," Staff Sgt. Ken Derakhshan explained.
Mounties don't know how call lists are generated.
Sgt. Guy-Paul Larocque said scammers seem to be ramping up efforts. They recently reached his own cell phone, an unlisted number. "What we see is only believed to be the tip of the iceberg," he told reporters.
Larocque suggested to hang up the phone if people suspect it's a CRA scam. Another piece of advice: ask simple questions such as asking for the name of the operator. They will likely get frustrated and hang up themselves, he explained.
The CRA will never use aggressive language or threaten people with legal action or arrests, said Tammy Branch, the agency's general director of collections and verification.
She urged people who encounter CRA scammers to the report the calls, emails, or texts to the RCMP and Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.