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1 in 5 Canadians exposed to tax scam

Jennifer Kwan
Pay Day
Canada Revenue Agency/CP

With tax season well underway, tax experts are reminding Canadians to be on high alert when it comes to potential scams.

One in five Canadians has been exposed to a tax season scam including phishing, identity theft, false charities and tax preparer fraud, according to a recent survey by the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada.

Canadians victimized have either lost, or know someone who has lost, more than $1,200 to a tax season scam.

Men and younger people are more susceptible, according to the survey, while phishing e-mails and telephone remain the most popular tax season scams. More than half of the 2,009 people surveyed online between Feb. 6-12 by Ipsos Reid say they don't know where to report fraud.

"Tax season is a prime time for con artists to take advantage of Canadians, particularly younger adults who may have less experience with tax matters," Anthony Ariganello, president and chief executive of CGA-Canada, said in a statement.

"It is important that Canadians know how to spot the red flags and where to go to report fraud."

Paul Lynch, national tax partner with KPMG, said if you do encounter any suspicious tax-related issue to call Canada Revenue Agency, Public Safety Canada, as well as Canada's Anti-Fraud Centre.

Lynch said e-mails remain one of the more popular methods of potential tax scams. Here are a few tips to keep in mind during this tax season.

Set up e-mail filters
If an email address looks suspicious, don't open it. Instead, flag it as spam in your e-email account and remember to enlist your e-mail provider's built-in security controls.

"The first thing is to set up your filters to get these things blocked off because if it's from a peculiar address your filter should block it off and isolate it. So you can then look at those things. You should be a little skeptical right away if your e-mail filter has segregated one of these things because that should be a an indicator that it's not a normal e-mail address or it's a bulk mail of some sort," says Lynch.

Pay attention to the details
"Once you get them, you've got to look at them closely," says Lynch. He added it's fairly safe to assume it's a possible scam if it's from a bank of the Canada Revenue Agency or some tax authority of some sort as they don't use e-mail for that purpose.

"That's just an awareness thing ... When you get those e-mails look at them carefully. When you read them and the language is wrong or the explanations are wrong or there are typographical errors, that should be a sign that things are a little out of sorts."

Don't give out information
Keep your personal information private, especially when dealing with unsolicited e-mails or phone calls.

"Anyone asking you to verify information, don't reply, don't click on those links. Anyone credible you can verify by another means. Don't provide any details such as your social insurance number," Lynch says.

Be sure to press for credentials or verify information on your own, separately from any suspicious correspondence.

Know your finances and tax situation
It's crucial to stay on top of your finances and if you are expecting a tax return to know exactly how much you're getting. "Usually they'll have a number in the e-mail so if you know what you're expecting and it's different from that, that should be a sign," says Lynch.