As if the recent phone scam with fraudsters claiming to represent the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) hasn't been enough of a bother, I need to now add a new annoyance -- one that was actually sent out by CRA, though apparently in error.
To go back to the beginning of these woes, I (along with many other Canadian) received a series of quite nasty, threatening calls, telling me that there had been a problem with my recent tax return and that I'd better pay up -- pronto -- or get a lawyer to make contact on my behalf. Since the caller actually left a number for me to call, it seemed easy to report this as a nuisance call, one that no doubt was part of a fraud scheme.
When I reported the call to the police, I was somewhat surprised that I was immediately transferred to a staff member dedicated to this particular problem, as I hadn't known then how widespread this was. He took down the details, and when I offered that my caller had identified himself as "Officer Riley Smith" he chuckled a bit, stating that "Ryan Smith" was another of the pseudonyms used, suggesting they must be working their way through the R-names. He told me I could also report it to my phone provider to see if they might be able to help. Ha.
The phone company's solutions at first seemed reasonable: block the caller's number. Yet when I tried this, the message came back that I couldn't. Because this seemed weird, I contacted a service agent for help, as I figured I'd probably hit the wrong 'pound key' or 'star' combination in my efforts to block the number. But no, that wasn't the problem.
It turns out that even the phone company can't block this particular number from calling me again. The rep explained that their software isn't capable of dealing with the matter of blocking that caller. In other words, the fraudster's software is 'smarter' than the phone company's. Confidence-inspiring, isn't it.
But back to the 'legit' message from CRA, which arrived in yesterday's mail. This was a notice stating that I hadn't yet paid my income tax assessment, and that the amount owing (to be paid by May 25th) was thus-and-such, an amount that had clearly had interest added to my original amount.
When I went to my bank account, sure enough, the money was gone -- and as of the date when I'd paid it, April 29th, a whopping twenty-four hours in advance of the April 30th deadline.
Yet the delinquent payment notice I'd received from CRA was dated May 5th, six days after I had followed their recommendation and paid online.
So, I picked up the phone and called (luckily, they at least provide a 1-800 number), only to be told that my balance was zero, and that yes, their records show I paid in full on the 29th of April and all is well. Then, I asked, "What happened? Why did I get this notice?"
The poor guy replied that he couldn't even tell me how many of these notices had gone out -- and all in error -- and that he and his colleagues were just about crazy from trying to explain to people that it was a mistake, that they didn't owe anything and that all was well.
But really, I thought, all isn't well. The postage alone cost nearly a dollar (to say nothing of the paper, processing, etc.).
What I'd like to know now, in strictly, dollar-terms -- not even in counting the hours of phone calls the agents had to waste their time dealing with -- just how much tax-payer money was wasted by Canada Revenue this week?
And why is that I suspect that this, like the unblockable numbers the fraudsters can devise, is a problem where the 'blame' goes to the software and to the machine -- the machines we humans have supposedly been in charge of, the software programs we have written.
Yet, when the software is making such expensive and troublesome errors, isn't it perhaps time to take back some of the powers we've granted the machines -- or at least try, while perhaps we still can.