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Apple Canada Warns of iTunes Card Scam, CAFA Says Losses Total $1.7 Million

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In the spring of 2016, an iTunes gift card scam surfaced in Canada, with con artists pretending to be the Canada Revenue Agency, urging victims to pay “back taxes” due to an audit—using iTunes Cards. Here’s how Apple describes the scam:

A string of scams are taking place asking people to make payments over the phone for things such as taxes, hospital bills, bail money, debt collection, and utility bills. The scams are committed using many methods, including gift cards. As the fraudsters are sometimes using iTunes Gift Cards, we want to make sure our customers are aware of these scams.

Itunes gift card trimmed 2x

Victims were told with urgency to head to their nearest retailer to purchase iTunes gift cards, then read 16-digit codes on the back of the phone to callers. But of course, this is something the CRA would never do.

According to Global News, one victim in B.C. lost nearly $4,000 back in October. The The Canadian Anti-Fraud Agency told Global News the iTunes CRA scam popped up last spring and had nearly 400 Canadians duped, with “losses well over $1.7 million.”

Last August, one elderly woman in Calgary lost nearly $10,000 through this iTunes card scam. Calgary police said between June 1 to July 21, over $140,000 was lost by 44 victims in the city. One victim lost $15,700 in iTunes cards and $4,000 in Best Buy gift cards, for a total of $19,700. Ouch.

Ottawa woman Michelle Jaksic shared the story of her $12,500 loss to CTV News:

Jaksic was told to purchase iTunes gift cards and read the codes on the back to the man over the phone. She started at Walmart at the Bayshore Shopping Centre, where she bought 10 iTunes gift cards valued at $100 each.

She read the codes to the man on the phone, then went back in and purchased 10 more $100 cards at a different cash register.

For the next eight hours, Jaksic made five more stops and bought a total of $12,500 worth of iTunes gift cards. She drove out to a Walmart in Kanata, back to the Apple Store at Bayshore, and then out to Stittsville to a Foodbasics and to a Shoppers Drug Mart. After each purchase, she read the code for every single card to the man on the phone.

She said she was making the purchases out of fear.

“When they said that RCMP officers were going to come and arrest me, and that I would be put into jail for 90 days, it terrified me,” she said.

Apple issued a warning to Canadian customers in September 2016, noting on their support page for customers to be aware of this iTunes gift card scam. That same month, Apple told CTV News they were working with card retailers and also Apple Store employees to be aware of the scam.

The company also stepped up to help Surrey, BC, woman Eva Obida, get refunded for the iTunes cards she purchased, but did not provide to a scammer.

The CAFC said in 2016, they received 46 complaints of scammers demanding iTunes gift card payments, noting losses were at $85,041, with the most popular fraud tactic being the impersonation of the CRA. Some consumers reported getting texts about “back taxes”, then threatened to be deported if taxes aren’t paid immediately—via iTunes cards.

Apple says customers should never provide numbers from the back of iTunes cards to people they do not know, and to contact potential scams to local police and the CRA.

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  • ricazoid

    “Victims were told with urgency to head to their nearest retailer to purchase iTunes gift cards, then read 16-digit codes on the back of the phone to callers.”

    How could anyone fall for this??

  • TJ

    I agree. Whenever I hear this story, I can’t believe it is real.

  • Mark Ritter

    I was also thinking about that.
    I’m sympathetic for all scam victims, more so older people who fall for such scams, but to pay for back taxes with iTunes cards … C’mon!!!
    How gullible can you be to pay for taxes with iTunes cards …. Particularly when told by an alleged government agent from CRA.
    Those victims equally share the blame.

  • runner

    You should see the movie Compliance, it is based on true story. People will do things you wouldn’t believe when they believe they are answering to authority.

  • Salinger

    The problem is, if someone is so gullible and technologically illiterate as to believe something like this is legit, you could post all the warnings you like all over the web, they’re never going to see it. The only way to get the word out to these folks is through traditional media; newspapers and TV.

    My mum is in her 80’s and while she’s definitely not tech savvy, when she gets calls like this she just tells them where to go and hangs up. I think you’ve got to be some hardcore gullible (putting it nicely) to at the very least, not call a friend or relative and ask “could this be kosher”.

  • Dehop

    You’d think that Apple would be able to track down the fraudsters; after all, unlike credit cards that can be used for gas or shipping things to a drop box, it’s used for iTunes and app store purchases or subscriptions. Those are inherently tied to an account, and unlike personal data kept on a locked iPhone, that info is stored on Apple servers and can be subpoenaed.

  • With these scammers it’s a numbers game…probably robo calling thousands and all it takes is one person to fall for it and they get paid. Gotta feel bad for these folks for getting duped for so much money.

  • Chris Kim

    I agree this is pretty crazy that this many people fall for this, but you’re right it must be the tiniest of percentages… I
    really wonder how the scammer convinces the person that the method that the CRA should be paid for back taxes is via iTunes gift cards?

    Even Visa
    prepaid credit cards would be hard to rationalize (“the CRA will use
    these funds in lieu of cash to pay for various expenses…”), but iTunes
    gift cards?! What possible reason could the CRA or Canadian Government have for buying things with taxpayer money on iTunes?!

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