TRURO, N.S. – Catherine Otterson’s thought process froze as she listened the man on the telephone telling her to comply with his demands or face immediate arrest.
“I was crying, everything,” the Colchester County senior said. “I wasn’t thinking. It stunned me,” she said, of the man who claimed to be a representative from the Canada Revenue Agency demanding immediate payment of $500.
Her tears meant nothing. Nor was he bothered when Otterson told him she was in ill health and would have to borrow the money.
“I said that I wasn’t a well lady. He said he knew that,” she said, of the con artist on the other end of the phone who relentlessly pushed on.
Shaking with fear, Otterson, 76, set off to borrow the money to buy $500 worth of iTunes gift cards as instructed.
“I went to MacQuarries (Pharmasave) for the cards and they asked me what for. I told them and they said it was a scam.”
She went to the police and was told the same thing. And when she later relayed that information to the man after he called back to see if she had purchased the cards, he immediately hung up.
The ordeal began with a voice-mail Otterson received late last Friday afternoon.
“This message is from Canada Revenue Agency,” a female voice can be heard saying. “The reason behind the call is to inform you that there is a lawsuit which is getting registered under your name. So we want you to call us back on our department number, which is 613 699-7830. Do call us back otherwise we need to issue an arrest warrant under your name. Thank you.”
On Monday morning Otterson called the number and spoke to a “Jason” who said her income tax return had been completed incorrectly and unless she dealt with it right away she would be arrested.
He said that after she purchased the gift cards someone would come to her home to pick them up. He also asked Otterson for details about her car, which left her believing she was being watched.
That was also the impression that Beatrice Pratt of Bible Hill was left with after she too received a call from “Revenue Canada” last Friday afternoon.
Like Otterson, Pratt, 77, was told there had been a miscalculation on her tax return and unless she immediately came up with $1,000 to “clear her name”, she would be arrested and forced to settle the matter in court.
“Of course I was just bawling and I told them I don’t understand,” Pratt said, of the caller, who spoke with a foreign accent. He said he would have his superior speak to her at which point another man came on the line.
“He sounded just like a (police) officer,” she said. The man told her told calm down and he would explain things to her. When her husband tried to interject by suggesting the call was a scam, the man told him to calm down or he could be arrested for insulting an officer.
Pratt was then given very specific instructions to take her cell phone and go to the nearest store where she could purchase “Steam” gift cards.
After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to find the cards, she was instructed to go to the nearest Needs convenience store to make the purchases.
Pratt did as told but while she was still in the store, the battery in her cell phone drained and the phone shutdown.
At that point, she didn’t know what to do.
“I was scared to death. I was terrified,” she said. “I thought he was in the store watching me… I was scared that he might be out in the parking lot.”
Pratt returned home, however, and contacted a family member who convinced her the caller was a fraud.
Attempts are now being made to get her money returned but at this point she is still out the $1,000.
“It was just like a nightmare,” Pratt said. “I just shook. The whole night long, walked the floor, bawled, everything.”
Otterson said she too has had difficulty sleeping, to point where she woke up one night feeling like someone was walking in her kitchen.
“An awful way to make a living, isn’t it?” she said, of those responsible. “I hope they (police) get them and put them in jail for life.”
If it sounds fishy, just hang up
Telephone scams involving gift cards and callers pretending to be Revenue Canada representatives are far from new, an RCMP spokesperson says.
“It unfortunately happens all of the time,” said RCMP Cpl. Jennifer Clarke. “I know of a recent case where a senior was coerced into sending $9,000 via Western Union before she realized what was happening.”
What people need to keep in mind, Clarke said, is that Revenue Canada, financial institutions, or other reputable organizations would never ask to be compensated using gift cards or wire transfers. “Clients would never be scared or threatened by a reputable organization. If the call is legitimate, there should never be an issue with the person asking for the name and phone number of the person who is calling them, and checking with the bank or police to figure out whether the caller is above-board.”
In many cases, if the caller is a scammer, they will do just about anything they can to keep the victim on the phone and will not leave contact information,” Clarke said.
“People tend to be polite and trusting, and scammers often take advantage of this,” she said. “We ask people to trust their instincts, ask questions, and contact police, their financial institutions, and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre if they have questions.”