Edmonton man who didn't apply for CERB finds money claimed in his name
EDMONTON -- An Edmonton man says he has fallen victim to a new type of identity theft targeting the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit.
Guy Lavallee, who is an employee of Bell Media, said he was concerned after receiving five messages from the Canada Revenue Agency last week, including a notification that his direct deposit information had been changed on the Canada Revenue Agency website.
"I also thought immediately they were those weird spam fake emails, 'cause we've been getting those phone calls all the time," said Lavallee.
But when he checked the CRA website, he found that his bank account had been changed to a TD account in Quebec.
The messages also indicated his CERB payments had been successfully processed, which was especially unusual because Lavallee had not applied for CERB "in any way, shape or form," he said.
Lavallee eventually determined a fraudster used his information to claim two months' worth of CERB payments to their account.
But when he tried to report it, he found the security-conscious CRA has no phone line dedicated to fraud — and no humans to answer phones outside of eastern business hours.
"It was a two- to three-hour wait, on hold," said Lavallee. "So I’m sitting here at nine o’clock at night on a Monday, knowing this has happened, and there’s nobody I can report it to."
The CRA says it has added phone lines and hired more staff to help address high call volumes.
When contacted about Lavallee's case of identity theft, the agency issued a statement saying: "We want to assure all confirmed victims of identity fraud that they will not be held responsible for any money paid out to scammers using their identity.”
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre estimates more than $5.5 million has been stolen since March in COVID-related scams.
Through the end of June, more than 700 people have fallen victim to frauds involving CERB.
One security analyst with the centre predicts those numbers will continue to rise.
"I think the numbers are going to go up fairly drastically in July," said Jeff Thomson.
Thomson said the creation of the CERB opened the door for identity thieves, giving them another way to try to monetize personal information they've swiped.
Even though Lavallee said his bank accounts and credit cards remain unaffected, the incident has left him feeling vulnerable.
"How on earth did somebody get into my account, especially when there are those additional barriers in place?" he said. "It’s really the not knowing, and the fact that it really feels like nobody at the Canada Revenue Agency is taking this seriously."
As for the fraudulent CERB payments, Lavallee said roughly $4,000 was deposited into the fraudster's account — money the CRA is trying to reclaim.