New tactics, old scam: CRA fraud scheme still making the rounds

A St. John’s woman who fell for a scam by someone claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency is warning others not to let the same thing happen to them.

‘They kind of make you panic. They’re like, ‘there’s an investigation started into your account,’ and you kind of jump a little bit.’
– Becky McHugh

Just hours after checking the CRA website to see if her HST rebate was available, university student Becky McHugh got a text message on her cellphone notifying her that an “investigation” had been started.

“They kind of make you panic. They’re like, ‘there’s an investigation started into your account,’ and you kind of jump a little bit. That’s how they get you.”

McHugh clicked on the link in the text message, which took her to a website where she started filling in a form with personal information.

Variation of a common scam

“Everything looked exactly the same as what was on the CRA web page, so I entered my social insurance number and I clicked ‘Submit.'”

After she answered a few more questions, the website address caught her eye and she realized it didn’t look legitimate after all.

She said it looked more like the web address for a home decor website.

The texting scam McHugh fell for is a variation on a common scam that’s been circulating for a few years involving an email or phone call from someone claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency.

Becky McHugh is a post-secondary student in Newfoundland and Labrador who shared personal information, including her social insurance number, after being targeted by a CRA texting scam. (Submitted)

The scam asks people to provide personal information and even goes so far as to make outright demands for payment of one form or another.

But the Canada Revenue Agency doesn’t use text as a way to get in touch with clients so, if you receive a text like McHugh did, you can know immediately that it is something that should be ignored.

Now McHugh is concerned that her social insurance number, name and home address are all in the hands of a scammer. She said the risk of identity theft is her biggest worry.

“I don’t want anyone using my social insurance number, because who knows what they can do with that?”

‘Through the use of the internet and now cellphones, they’re able to reach consumers that they were never able to reach before.’
– Jessica Gunson

McHugh reported the scam to the police, but she was told authorities can’t do much unless she has proof someone has actually used her personal information to defraud her. She found that frustrating and said there should be more that police and other agencies can do.

Ron O’Connell of Corner Brook, N.L., also said not enough is being done to stop the CRA scam.

O’Connell was contacted through a call to his cellphone instead of a text. He recorded the call, which was threatening and menacing.

In the recording, a male voice says, “This call is from Canada Revenue Agency. The reason we are trying to contact you is to inform you that there is a lawsuit filed against you by the Canada Revenue Agency. And there is a warrant of arrest issued under your name.”

This is the text message Becky McHugh received which, at first glance, appeared to her to be legitimate. (Submitted)

O’Connell told the Corner Brook Morning Show that he knew immediately that the call was a scam, but he says others could be fooled.

“Some people may get duped. Someone is saying they’re going to issue a warrant for your arrest. Someone might panic and call this number back and give the scammers their data, but they should never do it.”

He can’t understand why the scam calls can’t be traced and the perpetrators stopped.

However frustrated victims of the scam might be, police say there’s not much they can do if a person hasn’t lost any money.

Police say, ‘Don’t call us’

Earlier this month, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary issued a press release to ask people not to call them unless there’s been a financial loss.

RNC in Corner Brook say they’ve had a high number of calls lately about the CRA scam, and they’re asking people to call the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre instead.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says a common scam this time of year involves a text message from fraudsters posing as Canada Revenue Agency workers. (CBC)

The centre is like a clearing house for all of the reports of fraud across Canada, including reports of attempted extortion, which is how the CRA scam is classified.

Anti-fraud centre gets calls every day

Jessica Gunson, acting call centre and intake unit manager with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, told CBC the centre has been inundated with complaints about the CRA scam, and gets calls every day from Canadians who’ve been targeted by scammers.

“Through the use of the internet and now cellphones, they’re able to reach consumers that they were never able to reach before.”

In 2017, that added up to more than 12,000 complaints and 965 people who actually lost money — nearly $4.7 million.

CRA urges caution

The Canada Revenue Agency says it takes a lot of time and effort to keep people informed about the risks of scam calls.

But the agency’s Dawn Kennedy isn’t optimistic the scam will end any time soon.

“It’s very difficult for us to know who’s doing it. And you may see from time to time certain groups of people have been arrested or charged or the scheme has stopped, only for another one to pop up again. So we do try to stop it but, unfortunately, scam artists are scam artists; they’re going to keep trying.”

Kennedy’s advises people who want to verify a call or email to contact the CRA directly at 1-800-959-8281 or to login into the CRA’s website securely with the My Account service.

Wind wreaks havoc, leaves thousands without power in B.C.

Thousands of British Columbians woke up without power Sunday morning after strong winds knocked out hydro across the South Coast.

According to BC Hydro, around 65,000 customers woke up in the dark in Metro Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast and across Vancouver Island. 

“The high winds have caused significant damage to our system, including downed power lines and damaged power poles,” said BC Hydro spokesperson Tanya Fish.

Strong wind gusts have caused multiple power outages across the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. (GP Mendoza/CBC)

Fish is advising anyone who comes across a downed power line to keep a distance of 10 metres away from it and to call 911.

Environment Canada has issued a wind warning for Metro Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast, the Southern Gulf Islands and much of Vancouver Island.

Environment Canada is asking drivers to watch out for loose debris and to exercise caution on the roads.

Wind speeds could reach up to 100 kilometres per hour along the west coast of Vancouver Island Sunday.

“There is potential for more power outages,” said Fish.

“Crews have been working through the night on repairs and will continue until all power is restored.”

Prospect of yearly federal beer tax hike has brewers up in arms

If beer commercials are anything to go by in Canada, having a cold one is just as much a staple as watching hockey.

But according to new figures released this week by a brewers’ association, Canada’s once-booming beer economy is facing growing challenges as consumers down a glass of beer that the industry says is “already half empty.”

Beer Canada says almost half of what consumers pay right now for the average price of beer is tax, and as the federal tax on beer increases annually starting next April, consumers will have to pay even more for their suds. 

The federal tax on domestic and imported beer rose by two per cent last year as part of the 2017 budget. It will continue to increase every year in line with inflation starting this April.

“The federal tax on beer right now is $31.84 per hectolitre, and it will increase to $32.32 per hectolitre, and this will drive up liquor board markups, PST and GST,” said Beer Canada spokesperson Brittany Moorcroft. The scheduled 2018 “escalator” tax amounts to a 1.51 per cent increase.

Beer Canada, which represents the brewers that account for 90 per cent of the beer made in Canada, has launched a campaign this week asking consumers to sign a petition calling on Finance Minister Bill Morneau to scrap the tax increase.

“Imagine being stuck on an escalator going up and up and up, and you cannot get off, and you cannot make it stop — that’s what beer lovers in Canada are facing with this escalator tax,” said Beer Canada chair George Croft.

The group says tax on beer in Canada is already among the highest in the world.

Canada ranked third of 28 countries for taxing beer in 2012, according the market research firm Impact Databank.

Drinking less

The question of taxes comes at a time when Canadians are already drinking less beer than they used to.

Beer consumption per capita has fallen by 10 per cent over the past decade, according a new study released by the Conference Board of Canada.

A number of factors such as demographic changes, more competition from other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and rising prices have contributed to the decline, the study suggests.

But even with a declining consumer base, the beer industry contributed $13.6 billion to Canada’s economy in 2016, the study showed.

“No matter where Canadians buy beer, they support jobs across the country in a wide range of industries, including accommodation and food services, wholesale and retail trade, transportation and agriculture,” said Pedro Antunes, economist at the Conference Board of Canada.

The study also found that:

  • Beer is still the most popular alcoholic beverage in Canada, making up over 41 per cent of alcohol sales.
  • Beer supported nearly 149,000 jobs, generating labour income of about $5.3 billion.
  • Almost 85 per cent of beer sales in Canada were from a local brewery.

Revenue generator

For federal, provincial and municipal governments, the beer industry generated $5.7 billion in tax and other revenues in 2016, according to the study.

Defending the move to increase the tax, Finance Ministry spokeswoman Chloe Luciani-Girouard told Reuters that small brewers pay decreased rates on the first 7.5 million litres of beer.

“It’s worth remembering that the last effective increase to the federal excise tax was over 30 years ago,” she said, adding that the annual inflationary adjustment would provide brewers with greater certainty in the future and is in line with actions taken by many provinces.

Provincial taxes on beer have increased by 58 per cent in Quebec since 2012, 18 per cent in Ontario and 28 per cent in Alberta, according to Beer Canada.


But Luke Harford, president of Beer Canada, said brewers are telling him that higher taxes will make it harder for them to sell beer and make it less likely for them to invest in their people, plants and community.

“We want to hold on to the big economic footprint that we have in this country, because it employs a lot of people,” he said, referring to the market share that local brewers hold over importers.

 “There aren’t that many food industries that could say that 85 per cent of what is sold in Canada is actually made in Canada. But, because of higher taxation, they [brewers] will have less resources to put toward that,” he added.

U.S. House could accept bill extending government funding for 3 weeks

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Sunday that the House of Representatives would accept a bill funding the government through Feb. 8 and ending the current shutdown of federal agencies, if the Senate can pass the measure.

“We’ve agreed that we would accept that in the House,” Ryan said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “So we will see sometime today whether or not they have the votes for that [in the Senate].”

Senate Republican leaders have said the chamber will vote on the measure to fund the government through Feb. 8 at 1 a.m. ET on Monday, unless Democrats agree to hold the vote sooner.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, speaks during a news conference on Saturday after U.S. President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress failed to reach a deal on funding for federal agencies. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that if the government shutdown stalemate continued, Republicans should ensure that funding by changing Senate rules, which currently require a super-majority for appropriations bills to pass.

“The Dems [Democrats] just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked. If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51 per cent (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget,” Trump said on Twitter.

Trump’s proposal was almost immediately rejected by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

Senate Republicans oppose changing the chamber’s rules so that legislation to fund the government and end the current shutdown could pass with a simple majority, the spokesperson said.

“The Republican Conference opposes changing the rules on legislation,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Current Senate rules require a super-majority of three-fifths of the chamber, usually 60 out of 100, for legislation to clear procedural hurdles and pass.

Funding for federal agencies ran out Saturday with Trump and Republican lawmakers locked in a standoff with Democrats.

Democrats have said short-term spending legislation must include protections for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children, known as “Dreamers.” Republicans, who have a slim 51-49 Senate majority, said they would not negotiate on immigration until the government was reopened.

Insurers say Canadian weather getting weirder

If it seems as if the weather’s getting weirder, you’re not wrong.

An index of extreme weather in Canada compiled by the insurance industry backs that up.

“Yes, we see definite trends that can’t be explained by normal variability,” said Caterina Lindman of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries.

The institute compiles what it calls the Actuaries Climate Index, a joint effort by insurance organizations across North America. It recently released its latest quarterly update — up to spring 2017.

The index begins with a 30-year average taken from 1961 to 1990 of everyday weather conditions such as temperature, precipitation, wind speed and sea level. Thresholds are set for each of those based on the top 10 per cent of readings.

Vehicles drive on a road in Iqaluit, Nunavut, on Jan. 5. (Frank Reardon/Handout via CP)

For an average month, for example, about three days would be in that 10 per cent.

Using data provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — one of the top American government science organizations — the index then counts how many days actually exceed that threshold. The index plots the results for every three-month period since 2016.

The method reveals a slow, gradual increase in extreme weather.

The overall Canadian index indicates that during the entire three decades between 1961 and 1990, extreme weather fell outside the range of normal variability only five times. In the last 10 years, however, that happened 12 times.

‘Concerned for the sustainability of our planet’

Temperatures have been climbing.

Across Canada, hot days have exceeded the normal number every quarter since the winter of 2015. The number of cold days hasn’t exceeded normal for nine years.

It’s getting wetter, too. Across Canada, the average number of days with heavy rain or snow has been outside the norm since spring 2013. In Ontario and Quebec, it’s been since winter 2008.

It’s harder to draw conclusions about wind for Canada as a whole. Likewise for sea level — unless you live in the Maritimes, where sea level has been higher than the normal range for the last 12 years.

The findings correspond with data from Environment Canada, which suggests average summer temperatures have climbed one degree since 1970 and precipitation has increased about five per cent.

Actuaries use the information in their calculation of risk as they insure lives and property, said Lindman. But they also assess the climate to contribute to public debate.

“There’s a lot of political angst around the issue of global warming and we’re trying to be neutral sources,” she said. “We’re just adding our voice.

“We’re in it for the long haul, so we are concerned for the sustainability of our planet.”

LifeProof Fre and Next for Apple iPhone X: Useful when your phone must be part of your outdoor adventure

When I head out to the rivers for fly fishing, hit the road for cycling, or go running in the rain, I grab a water resistant phone. However, there is still the chance the phone may drop so I need more protection and that is where LifeProof has the answer.


Apple iPhone X: This is as good as it gets

Face ID, an impressive display, new interaction methods, and solid performance put the iPhone X on top.

Read More

A couple of months ago, ZDNet’s Jason Perlow introduced readers to the different LifeProof models and for the past couple of weeks I have been using the LifeProof Next and LifeProof Fre with my Apple iPhone X.

LifeProof Next

The new LifeProof Next is the mid-level model of the LifeProof brand with the LifeProof Slam focused just on drop protection. The Next is designed to be dropproof, dirtproof, and snowproof.

The case consists of two pieces that snap tightly together to seal in your iPhone X. The back is composed of a rigid clear plastic that extends up to the four sides to hold your iPhone in place without any ability to shift.

The front piece has clear plastic and colored softer material that fits over the top of your iPhone X. After placing your iPhone X into the back piece, this top part snaps in place. Make sure to go all around every edge as you will hear a lot of clicking as the front locks in place. The colored material is available in black, gray, mint, and pink. I tested out the mint, aka Seaside, color.

There is a small toggle for the ringer switch and before you head out make sure that is positioned correctly. While I was taking the two pieces apart, it isn’t easy, I misaligned this toggle so my ringer switch didn’t work at first. I took my iPhone out and readjusted it to work and now it is perfect.

There are raised buttons for the volume and right side button with a door covering the Lightning port. These cases are better now that there is no headphone jack to accommodate.

There is no cover on the front of this case so if you want to protect the display then you should consider the Fre case or pick up a tempered glass screen protector. The iPhone X does have an IP67 dust and water resistant rating so you could drop your iPhone X in this case in the water, but I would try to avoid that if possible.

The LifeProof Next case is quite slim for a protective case and you no longer have to double the thickness of your phone to get a solid level of protection. It is available now for $79.99.

LifeProof Fre

For just $10 more, $89.99, you can pick up the LifeProof Fre that adds an integrated front screen protector and more seals for waterproof protection of up to two meters for an hour. If you take your iPhone on vacation to the beach or the pool, hit the snowy mountains during the winter, spend half of your outdoor life in the rain like I do, or want full protection for your iPhone then you should definitely consider the Fre.

The LifeProof Fre comes in six available color schemes: Night Lite (all black with lime green highlights), Drop In (mint, gray, and lime green), Wipeout (couple shades of mint and pink highlights), Chakra (purples and pink), Banzai (blues and lime green), and Fire Run (reds and gray highlights). I tested out the Banzai one, which is a close match to my Seattle Seahawks colors.

The additional interior O-ring, seals, and front plastic cover bump the dust and water resistance to IP68 with MIL-STD 810G drop protection. To use this case you first place your iPhone X into the front piece that is built up around the four edges with a hard plastic frame and soft rubber front. The material on the front helps you grip the iPhone X and keeps it from sliding around on a table.

The back piece is quite thin and houses the O-ring, embedded in a channel around the entire frame of the case, and seal around the camera and back. Snap this onto the back of your iPhone X and then snap the bottom Lightning port closure door to hold everything together.

In the past, these cases with integrated plastic screen protectors always seemed to compromise the touch experience at some level. I have not experienced any issues with Face Unlock, ability to perform things with touch, or even see much difference in clarity. LifeProof did a fantastic job with this design.

There is a vanity clear window on the back for the Apple logo, which is a nice touch. There is no headset jack on the iPhone X so there is no adapter in the box either. The Lightning port opening is large enough for virtually all Lightning cables too.

Wireless charging and Apple Pay work perfectly fine with your iPhone X in this case. I haven’t seen any impact on camera performance either.

It’s fantastic to see LifeProof create such a high level of protection in a case without making the case bulky. One reason I love using the Apple iPhone X is the small size of the phone. With the LifeProof Fre installed it is larger, but still very pocketable and I feel much better taking my iPhone out into the elements.

Oil producers will cooperate beyond 2018, says Saudi Arabia

MUSCAT (Reuters) – Global oil producers are in agreement that they should continue cooperating on production after their deal on supply cuts expires at the end of this year, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Khalid al-Falih said on Sunday.

It was the first time Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, had publicly stated OPEC and non-OPEC producers would keep cooperating after 2018.

The exact mechanism for cooperation next year has not yet been decided, Falih said, but if oil inventories increase in 2018 as some in the market expect, producers might have to consider rolling the supply cut deal into next year.

“There is a readiness to continue cooperation beyond 2018… The mechanism hasn’t been determined yet, but there is a consensus to continue,” Falih said after a meeting of the joint ministerial committee which oversees implementation of the cuts.

The committee comprises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Venezuela and Algeria, plus non-OPEC producers Russia and Oman. The United Arab Emirates was also present on Sunday as it holds the presidency of OPEC.

Before the meeting, Falih said extending the cooperation framework beyond 2018 wouldn’t necessarily mean sticking to countries’ current production targets.

The agreement was launched last January and Saudi Arabia has accounted for by far the largest share of the output cuts.

Falih said a deal on production levels after 2018 would be about “assuring stakeholders, investors, consumers and the global community that this is something that is here to stay. And we are going to work together.”

Kuwait’s oil minister Bakheet al-Rashidi said Sunday’s meeting focused on compliance with the current agreement on output cuts, and discussion of the deal’s future was expected to occur in June, when OPEC and other producers led by Russia are next scheduled to meet on oil policy.

Oman’s oil minister Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhi said producers would discuss in November whether to renew their supply agreement or enter a new type of agreement. Oman is in favor of a new deal, he said without elaborating.

Falih said the global economy had strengthened while the supply cuts had shrunk oil inventories around the world. As a result, the oil market was on course to rebalance towards the end of 2018 or in 2019, he said.

But he stressed that producers still had a lot of hard work ahead to restore the market to health, and it was uncertain whether the current pace of the drawdown in oil inventories would continue in months to come.

“We are entering a low demand period seasonally, and we have to let that pass and see how inventories look in the second half before we consider any alteration” to current policy, he said.

Falih and energy ministers from the UAE and Oman noted that the rise of the Brent oil price to three-year highs around $70 a barrel in recent weeks could cause an increase in supply of shale oil from the United States.

But both Falih and UAE minister Suhail al-Mazroui said they did not think the rise in prices would hurt global demand for oil.

OPEC has a self-imposed goal of bringing oil inventories in industrialized countries down to their five-year average. But Falih said that identifying the exact target for inventories had yet to be discussed by producers, and it might only become clearer in June.

“I don’t think that we are going to reach our target anytime soon, certainly not in the first half,” he told reporters before Sunday’s meeting.

”I think we have to identify more clearly what is the normal level because five-year average – which five-year? The longer we wait to reach that target, the more the running five-year average increases and represents bloated inventories.

“I think one of the things we need to define in the next few months, before we meet in June, is what is the real target more precisely, and that is work that still needs to be done, and we still need to reach a consensus.”

Falih said the overall compliance of OPEC and non-OPEC nations with the production cuts was 129 percent in December. The next meeting of the joint ministerial committee overseeing implementation of the cuts will be held in April in Saudi Arabia, an OPEC statement said.

Writing by Andrew Torchia; Editing by Susan Fenton

Twitter to notify users exposed to Russian propaganda during U.S. elections

(Reuters) – Twitter Inc (TWTR.N), which is reviewing Russian interference during the 2016 U.S. elections, said on Friday it would notify some of its users whether they were exposed to content generated by a suspected Russian propaganda service.

The company said it would email 677,775 people in the United States who followed, retweeted or liked content from accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency (IRA) during the election.

The IRA is a Russian organization that according to lawmakers and researchers, employs hundreds of people to push pro-Kremlin content under phony social media accounts.

Twitter added that because it has already suspended these accounts, the relevant content is no longer publicly available on its platform.

Twitter executives on Wednesday told U.S. lawmakers that it may notify the users about the Russian propaganda.

The company in September said it had suspended about 200 Russian-linked accounts, and followed it by suspending adverts from media outlets Russia Today and Sputnik in October.

The top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee on Friday praised Twitter’s move and urged technology companies to keep looking into abuse of their platforms by Russia during the 2016 elections.

“The Committee’s open hearing last November with Twitter, Facebook and Google revealed the extent to which the Russians exploited vulnerabilities inherent in the openness of our society and social media platforms, and it is vital these companies are transparent with users who were likely exposed to Kremlin propaganda and disinformation,” Representative Adam Schiff said in a statement.

Senator Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel, echoed this view, tweeting: “I’ve been tough with Twitter on this, but I‘m encouraged to see the company beginning to take responsibility and notify its users of Russia’s influence on its platform.”

Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru and Eric Walsh in Washington; Editing by Maju Samuel and Lisa Shumaker

Audi ordered to recall 127,000 vehicles over emissions: paper

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Germany’s KBA automotive watchdog has detected illicit emission-control software in Audi’s (NSUG.DE) latest Euro-6 diesel models and has ordered a recall of 127,000 vehicles, Bild am Sonntag reported.

Audi, a unit of Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), said in a statement that the models had been included in a voluntary recall of 850,000 diesel vehicles with V6 and V8 TDI engines announced in July.

“The engine control software for the vehicles in question will be completely revised, tested and submitted to the KBA for approval”, Audi said in its statement.

It did not confirm more details of KBA’s request.

Bild am Sonntag said road transport authority KBA had told Audi to respond by Feb. 2 on how it plans to update vehicle software controlling emissions, making sure the cars are unable to illegally manipulate emission controls.

Audi said it has been examining its diesel-fuelled cars for potential irregularities for months in close cooperation with the KBA.

“As part of this systematic and detailed assessment, the KBA has now also issued a notice regarding Audi models with V6 TDI engines,” the carmaker added.

In November, Audi announced a recall of 5,000 cars in Europe for a software fix after discovering they emitted too much nitrogen oxide, the polluting gas that parent Volkswagen concealed from U.S. regulators in its devastating 2015 “dieselgate” scandal.

Volkswagen was found in 2015 to have illegally manipulated engine software so that vehicles would meet nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions standards in laboratory testing but not in real-world conditions, where they could emit up to 40 times the permitted levels.

Several Audi models were affected and Audi has been accused in media reports of having devised the so-called defeat devices years earlier but not to have installed them in its vehicles at that time. Audi and Volkswagen have never commented on the matter.

Reporting by Arno Schuetze; Editing by Susan Fenton

SoFi in talks with top Twitter exec about CEO position: WSJ

(Reuters) – Social Finance Inc (SoFi) is in discussions with Anthony Noto, a top Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) executive, to become the online lender’s chief executive, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday, citing sources.

Noto, Twitter’s chief operating officer, has been offered the CEO position at SoFi, the report said, and was expected to make a decision in the coming days.

SoFi, one of the most valuable private financial technology startups in the United States, has been without a CEO for a quarter of a year, since Mike Cagney stepped down amid a lawsuit that alleged that he presided over a hostile work environment for women.

Twitter on Saturday evening declined to comment and SoFi did not immediately respond to inquires by Reuters.

(This version of the story refiles to add slug for media clients. No changes in text.)

Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Alistair Bell