Chilliwack woman warns of tax evasion phone scam

Aggressive caller demanded payment imitating revenue agency

A young Chilliwack woman who fell victim to a popular telephone scam is sharing her story to help others.

Sasha Tuttle, 18, was ripped off for just over $2,000 this month — money she had saved for studying abroad next semester. Now, she’s hoping she can warn others.

It all started with an “aggressive” voicemail telling her to return the call or there would be “consequences,” and that it had something to do with tax evasion. Wanting to clear things up, she called the number back.

“He claimed he was with Canada Revenue,” she says. “They were very aggressive and very threatening and telling me that I couldn’t talk to anyone.”

But, there was a way out of this mess, the person on the line told her. If she didn’t want to go through court, they could work with authorities.

“They told me to get in my car and go to a government approved store,” she says, and he suggested Save-On Foods. She was instructed to stay on the phone but not make it obvious what she was doing. He then had her purchase $2,100 worth of iTunes cards.

“I know it was really silly but I wasn’t thinking,” she says. “I wasn’t allowed to hang up.”

The purchase went through without incident and she was then instructed to read off all the codes on the backs of the cards. Tuttle then was told to go to another store, Shoppers Drug Mart, and buy even more cards.

“A little warning popped up on the monitor and [the cashier] warned me of the scam,” she says. “I left. I hung up on the guy.”

If it hadn’t have been for that cashier’s warning, she would have carried on with the transaction.

“I would have lost another $2,500,” she says. “I would have had to cancel my trip.”

She immediately called a family friend and told her what happened, and they walked through what to do next. She went to the police station, Save-On Foods, and called iTunes. Nobody has been able to refund Tuttle the money, but she says she’ll just have to work extra hard to save it up again.

“I’ve warned all my family. I warned all my friends. I guess this is the next step,” she says, of going public. Even though she says it’s embarrassing, the caller preyed on her youth and fears to get her to act quickly without thinking.

“I was terrified. I’ve never broken the law before,” she says. “It was absolutely terrifying. Here I am, supposed to be going to school and working and stuff. It freaked me out and the way they did it was kind of clever. It wasn’t one of those crappy emails, where you’ve won something. It was a totally different method.”

Tuttle is certainly not alone in being scammed this way.

The Canada Revenue Agency/iTunes scam is one of the top listed scams on the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre’s website.

“In 2016 alone, the CAFC has received 46 complaints involving the use of iTunes gift cards as payment with losses totaling $85,041. The most common approach reported has fraudsters impersonating the real Canada Revenue Agency (CRA),” they report.

Just like Tuttle, consumers receive a call or text message claiming that they owe “back taxes” as the result of an audit. The payment must be made immediately to avoid a fine.

They urge people to really question anyone calling for money claiming to be the CRA.

They say: “If you are asked to pay for any service or product with an iTunes gift card, don’t do it, it’s a scam.”

Remember, you’re already on file as a taxpayer and the government would never contact you in this way.

Hang up and contact the CRA through the proper phone numbers to confirm that you in fact owe back taxes, or are entitled to a refund, before providing any personal or banking information.

“I learned that Canada Revenue does not make phone calls and if you’re ever summoned to court they would do it in writing,” Tuttle says.

Several readers have come into the Progress office to warn others of phone call and email scams making the rounds recently, including a Chilliwack senior Norman Schott, who received the same phone call as Tuttle last month.