Thank you, Madam Chair. It's a pleasure to appear before this committee as part of its study on fraud calls in Canada, particularly given that we find ourselves in fraud awareness prevention month, in the month of March.
I'm Assistant Commissioner Eric Slinn, responsible for the federal policing criminal operations program.
Joining me today is Acting Inspector Guy Paul Larocque, who is in charge of the RCMP's program to combat mass marketing fraud.
As part of our mandate to protect Canada's economic integrity, financial crime, including fraud, has long been a federal policing priority for the RCMP.
The RCMP works with partners across Canada in both the public and the private sectors.
As well, we work with law enforcement agencies around the world to pursue fraud cases, as highlighted by our recent success in Project Octavia here in Ontario. This array of partners speaks to the shared responsibility of combatting fraud not only in Canada but around the world. This is truly a global challenge that requires a global response.
Technology facilitates an increasingly interconnected and borderless world that provides tremendous benefit to Canadians. However, criminals also benefit. They are quick to adapt to the evolving technological landscape and use this landscape to target Canadians.
No one is exempt from these fraud calls. By way of example, just two weeks ago I received three separate calls within an hour from fraudsters pretending to be the CRA advising I was subject to criminal charges and a warrant would be issued for my arrest. This was only on my RCMP-issued cellphone. A lot of fun was had by me that day.
Fraud operations are so pervasive and profitable that relying solely on enforcement is an insufficient response to the scope of this criminal activity.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has made it clear through its organized crime committee that prevention forms a crucial component of the fight against fraud, and we agree.
On the topic of prevention, the RCMP continues to invest in this area. We've undertaken a number of local and national projects and initiatives that focus on prevention.
For example, in response to reports from the public and businesses on gift card scams, RCMP officers in Alberta took the initiative to create a fraud tip sheet, which they distributed to local businesses. A clerk in one store referenced the tip sheet and intervened to prevent an elderly individual from purchasing 50,000 dollars' worth of gift cards. These fraud tip sheets are being distributed to detachments throughout the province of Alberta.
Also in Alberta, officers created posters warning the public about Bitcoin fraud and placed them next to Bitcoin ATMs. RCMP federal policing is now working to expand this initiative to make it accessible across the country.
Nationally, the RCMP has operated the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre in partnership with the Competition Bureau of Canada and the Ontario Provincial Police since 2009.
The CAFC acts as Canada's central repository for information on mass marketing fraud and other scams impacting Canadians. In recognition of the significant impact and collective role of this, the CAFC disseminates information to law enforcement agencies, private industry and the Canadian public to raise awareness and prevent Canadians and businesses from falling victim to these scams.
The CAFC invests in fraud awareness campaigns, drawing the public's attention to high-profile scams, such as the CRA scam, through a variety of mechanisms, including social media.
Beyond prevention, the CAFC, in conjunction with private sector partners, targets the tools of scammers.
When individuals who suspect a scam or who have fallen victim to fraudsters report to the CAFC, the information they provide, telephone numbers, for example, is shared with the appropriate service provider, who can then terminate accounts by these scammers. Similarly, email addresses, bank accounts and merchant information are also shared with the appropriate partners to alert them to fraudulent activities within their own network.
While some victims have indicated that it can be difficult to reach the CAFC by phone, it's important for the public to continue to report, using online tools. Public reporting provides valuable information to the CAFC, but there is also the potential for victims to recover money lost. The CAFC works with such partners as Canada Post to intercept packages, or with banks to prevent money being sent to accounts linked with fraudulent activity, and sometimes to return the cash to those victims.
Under the federal policing priority of transnational and serious organized crime, the RCMP has a mandate to investigate criminal activity, including financial crime that crosses international borders and is carried out by criminal organizations who target Canadians. Under this mandate, the RCMP conducted an investigation recently into the CRA scam called Project Octavia.
Project Octavia commenced in October 2018. It investigated a telemarketing tax scam, better known as the CRA scam, which I'm sure many of you have heard about. In February 2020 the RCMP investigators arrested and charged two people in connection with the CRA scam. Between 2014 and 2019 the CRA scam resulted in cumulative losses, that we know of, totalling over $16.8 million.
Highlighting the complex, borderless nature of modern-day fraud investigations, RCMP investigators, including the RCMP liaison officer in New Delhi, India, worked with law enforcement agencies across Canada; other federal agency partners, including the CRA, Canada Border Services Agency and FINTRAC; and foreign authorities, including the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation and U.S. authorities based in India.
Long-running international cases like Project Octavia are indicative of the challenges the RCMP continues to encounter when investigating fraud. Criminals hide behind technology and international jurisdictions to perpetrate their crimes in Canada. However, where there is a challenge there is always an opportunity. Part of the success of Project Octavia can be attributed to the public awareness campaign undertaken by the RCMP through the CAFC. Since 2015 the CAFC and CRA have released numerous bulletins and public relations documents to inform Canadians of this scam.
You may have noticed that I've spoken at length about the CAFC. It is a best practice initiative that provides a valuable service both to law enforcement and to the Canadian public.
However, the CAFC is overwhelmed given the growth in phone scams and other frauds and the inundation of calls and emails it receives every day. As an international best practice and an effective proven model in the fight against fraud, the CAFC and its dedicated team of paid and volunteer staff provide a valuable service to Canadians, particularly such vulnerable populations as seniors and new immigrants.
Telcos have worked with us and taken specific actions to aid Canadians by blocking fraudulent calls from numbers they know are associated with suspected fraudulent activity. Both telcos and ISPs rely, at least in part, on information they receive from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. In turn, the CAFC is only as good as the information it receives from Canadians reporting frauds and scams.
Through Project Chameleon, financial institutions in Canada are working with the RCMP to identify perpetrators of romance fraud and to contact victims to protect their money. This is not to forget our international law enforcement partners, such as the Five Eyes law enforcement group. FELEG members have collectively undertaken work focused on vulnerable populations. These groups are not always comfortable contacting law enforcement, as we know, and are often specifically targeted by scams. Further work and international public and private sector partnerships along these lines could prove invaluable in combatting such frauds as the CRA scam, and offers an opportunity to gain further insight into the methods fraudsters use to bilk Canadians of their hard-earned money.
In conclusion, fraud impacts Canadians in a variety of ways: financial loss; potential loss of property or the ability to gain credit; and, most seriously, a loss of trust in the institutions that make Canada such a desirable place to live. I have highlighted that combatting fraud is a shared responsibility. It is one that we will not shy away from. The RCMP will continue to work with the public and private sectors and our international law enforcement partners to detect, investigate and prevent fraud to better ensure the safety and security of Canada and its citizens.
I thank the committee for the opportunity to stand before you and welcome the chance to answer any questions you may have.