How can I spot cyber scams before it is too late?

Scam artists are getting smarter, and technology is making it easier and easier for them to reach you. It started with phone calls. But now, you can get fraudulent messages through email, text and social media. 

I received a very convincing text message yesterday, so I figured it was a good time to review what to look for in a scam message. 

It was convincing for a few reasons: 

  1. There were no spelling or grammatical mistakes 
  2. The climate rebate is a real thing AND coming out around this time (July 15th was the payment date) 
  3. It has the correct province listed 
  4. They used the term “sign-in partner” which is exactly how it is worded on CRA’s website 

So how do you know it’s not the real thing? 

There are a few things to know about CRA’s operations that will help you discern if something is real or not. 

  1. CRA will only send you money in one of two ways: a cheque by mail or direct deposit into your bank account. If at any time you are sent a link to click on (by text or email), it is NOT from CRA. 
  2. If CRA needs to contact you, they will send you a letter by mail or through MyAccount. They will not text or email you.  
  3. If CRA calls you, the employee will immediately identify themselves. If you are unsure if the phone call is legitimate, ask for their name, phone number, and office location. You can then hang up, contact CRA and determine that the name given was a real employee. See the link below for more information. 
  4. CRA rarely calls you unless you are already working on something with them or they sent you a letter first. If you receive a call out of the blue, it’s likely fake. 
  5. CRA will never ask you to pay an amount owing with a credit card, gift card, or cryptocurrency. They accept payments by mailed cheque, through online banking, or a payment made in person at a financial institution or a Canada Post office. If they ask you to pay any other way, it is a scam. 

This is a great link to reference: How to verify the CRA has contacted you – 

When it comes to scams in general, there are a few things to look for: 

Phone calls 

  • The call is an automated voice message and not a real person. Most companies and offices will have real people call you, not machines. 
  • The call is from a foreign country. Many cell phones will tell you the location the call is coming from. If you don’t know anyone in that area, don’t pick up. 
  • When in doubt, let them leave a voicemail! A scammer won’t bother to leave a message. If it’s someone who knows you or a company you do business with, they’ll leave a message telling you who they are and how to call them back. 
  • The caller uses threatening language. Common ones will request money and use phrases like “there is a warrant out for your arrest”. 
  • The caller uses urgent or coercive language. Some scams will try to impersonate friends, family or charitable causes asking for help. If you’re not sure whether the caller is a family member, ask a few questions. What is your name, who are your parents, when is my birthday? A scammer won’t know the answers and will likely hang up if you ask. Don’t be deterred if they act offended by your questions. A real family member will understand your desire to be cautious. 
  • They ask for money through gift cards, prepaid credit cards, or cryptocurrency. These types of payment are harder for the police to track and easy for the scammer to use. 

Text messages 

  • The text comes from an area code that you don’t recognize. As with phone calls, proceed with caution. 
  • Threatening, urgent, or coercive language. Take a breath and ask some questions. Nothing bad will happen if you don’t act immediately. 
  • Major spelling or grammatical mistakes. If the speech patterns sound odd, it might be a scam. People from other countries can run a text through a translation app and send it. It’s possible that they don’t even speak the language they’re texting you in. 
  • Don’t click on links from an unknown number. This could be a virus that corrupts your phone or a website that steals your personal information. 


  • Threatening or urgent language. Several catfishing scams take place over email where the sender impersonates someone in need of help, asking for money. 
  • Abnormal spelling and speech patterns. Businesses especially will review their emails to make sure there are no big mistakes. If the phrasing sounds odd, it could be a translation again, so take care.  
  • Strange looking email addresses. Most scammers use fake accounts to send messages so the spelling of words or structure of the address might be a little bit off. 
  • Don’t click on any links or attachments from an unknown email. They could be viruses that corrupt your computer or an information-stealing device. 
  • If in doubt, give the business a call. Not sure if the sender is who they say they are? Just call. It’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Social Media 

  • Be extra careful. Social media scams break all the rules. Scammers take advantage of the anonymity and unstructured environment of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. 
  • Beware of messages from unknown contacts. It is easy for people to masquerade as anyone they like as you don’t hear their voice or see their face. Ask some questions to verify they are who they say they are. 
  • Keep an eye out for fake or photoshopped pictures. If the pictures on someone’s profile don’t look real, there’s a good chance they aren’t. Catfishing schemes are very common on social media. When you think you’re talking to a 22-year-old woman, you could be talking to a 57-year-old man. 
  • If anyone asks for money, don’t send it. If this is someone you know, they could pick up the phone and call you to ask. If it’s someone you don’t know, why would they be asking for money? It’s quite possible they’ve done the same thing to many people before you. 

As a general rule of thumb, proceed with caution. Any time you’re unsure, don’t do anything. Don’t answer the phone, open the email, or respond to the text message. Ask for a second opinion from a friend or take steps to verify the identity of the sender. 

We are more than happy to be your second opinion. The safety and peace of mind of our people is our top priority, so please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns. 

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