Scammers are stealing identities to redirect CERB payments, experts warn

The employment insurance section of the Government of Canada website is shown on a laptop in Toronto on April 4, 2020. It was a sunny March 18 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau presented the government's first big attempt at containing the economic fallout from COVID-19 in the form of an $82-billion rescue package. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jesse Johnston

The Canadian government has handed out $68.5 billion in Canadian Emergency Response Benefits (CERB) since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Now there is more proof that scammers are defrauding the program by stealing identities and redirecting CERB payments.

Farivar Ahmadzadeh of Toronto says he was relieved that he did not have to apply for the CERB funding because he’s been able to keep working throughout the pandemic, but he was shocked when he went on the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) website to check his tax return.

Ahmadzadeh says his account was hacked and $10,000 in CERB benefits was taken out in his name and deposited in a bank account that wasn’t his.

Scammers are finding people who haven’t applied for CERB benefits and once they get into their accounts they apply for the CERB and change the direct deposit banking information.

“It's worrisome that a government website can be hacked and all of our information is out there? It's really scary,” Ahmadzadeh said.

Now he is also worried about how much the scammers know about him.

“Is it my SIN number, is it my address, is it my banking information they have? I have no idea,” he said.

Leah Baverstock of Kitchener also had her account hacked.

“I didn't apply for the CERB benefit. I’m still working. I phoned CRA and they gave me a list of people I had to call to let them know I have been a victim,” Baverstock said.

Jeff Thomson with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says there have been more than 700 reported cases of CERB fraud.

“The fraudsters have harvested enough personal information to open accounts in their name,” he said.

The CRA said in a statement “scammers acquire taxpayers’ personal information, including SINs, through a variety of means, such as phishing scams and data leaks.”

It's frustrating for victims because they have to prove they didn't receive the money.

“In a lot of cases it is a reverse onus for the victim to try and clear their good name,” Thomson said.

Ahmadzadeh's account was hacked almost a month ago and he says he's had difficulty trying to settle the matter with the CRA. He's worried at tax time next year he'll be asked to repay the $10,000 CERB benefits even though he never received it.

“I want it in writing that I’m not responsible for the $10,000 that someone else got.”

The CRA says anyone who had their account hacked will not have to repay the CERB benefit.

Victims are advised to save all information, emails and documents connected to the fraud and report the scam to police.