Canada’s tax agency has received more than 3,300 tips on suspected abuse of emergency aid programs designed to help people and businesses who are taking a financial hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of tips on people suspected of cheating the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB), wage subsidy program and student COVID-19 aid is growing fast. As of May 31, the Canada Revenue Agency had received 600 tips; just over a week later, that number had swelled to 1,300.
CRA told CBC that as of June 21, it is reviewing more than 3,300 “leads” through its confidential online portal.
To date, Canadians have already made 361,000 repayments for CERB aid they weren’t eligible for. That’s up from 190,000 as of June 3. Some recipients made repayments after realizing they had made a double or erroneous claim, while others reimbursed money after CRA contacted them to say they were ineligible and asked them to repay.
CRA said it carries out pre-payment verifications and post-payment reviews for COVID-19 benefits.
When the CRA receives a tip on suspected abuse, it takes steps to identity a suspected cheat and review the case to determine if cheating occurred, according to the agency’s website. If verified, it will then take “appropriate action” to address the specific type of cheating.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and some federal ministers have said the government will not go after those who made honest mistakes when filing for emergency benefits, but they’ve vowed to crack down on those caught deliberately defrauding the system.
Bill outlining penalties doesn’t pass
The government had proposed legislation that would have imposed stiff penalties for deliberate CERB fraud, including fines and jail time. After a backlash that saw the government accused of trying to scare people even more during a global pandemic, the bill failed to pass a Commons vote earlier this month.
People who report suspected benefit abuse are guaranteed privacy and anonymity, and are not asked to disclose their own personal information. They are asked to provide as many details as possible about the suspected cheat and the reasons for making the allegation.
CRA does not give cash rewards for information about suspected cheating.