CALGARY -- The Better Business Bureau is warning Canadians about a new kind of government imposter scam that is emerging during the pandemic, with reports of people losing anywhere from $500 to $14,000.

“It’s very troubling that scammers choose to use this time to take advantage of people but we’re not surprised by it because we know that during any disaster, any crisis, any emergency situation, that’s when the scammers come out of the woodwork,” said BBB spokesperson Shawna-Kay Thomas.

The BBB said one of the most common scams in Canada involves callers pretending to be a government official, often from the Canada Revenue Agency.

But a BBB investigative study found CRA/tax scam calls are down and complaints targeting Service Canada have increased. So far this year, 4,000 reports of Service Canada scams have been reported. 

“We suspect this has to do with the COVID-19 pandemic. The government is offering a lot of support for people who need financing during this time and a lot of that has to be linked with your social insurance number, and claiming that money," said Thomas.

"So I think scammers are tapping into that and they are making these calls every day all day."

The scam involves someone posing as a government official offering a grant or some kind of payment due to COVID-19 and they request personal information in order to access the funds. 

“We’ve had people report getting text message emails about a government grant, for example, and then they have to pay these fees and each time they pay a fee it's another fee that’s added onto that," said Thomas.

"They make it seem so real and so legitimate and all the fees that they’re asking you to pay they’re connected to something that seem possible."

Thomas said people should watch for red flags, including:

  • If it sounds like a robotic voice on the other end, hang up;
  • If you get what appears to be a government email, don’t click on the link.

The BBB said often the caller may become aggressive and even threaten jail time or deportation.

Thomas said if you have any doubts, search for the government agency online, find the contact and reach out to them directly to find out if they tried to reach you.

Thomas said the Canadian government does not communicate by text or Facebook messenger and advises everyone to check their bank statements frequently. Also, log in to your CRA portal and confirm you were the last person to access the account.

Thomas said only five per cent of victims report if they’ve been the victim of fraudulent activity. She advises anyone who encounters a scam or near miss to report it so they can educate the public on how scammers are changing their tactics.