Investigators have arrested an Ontario-based married couple accused of acting as "money mules" in the Canada Revenue Agency phone-and-internet scam, Mounties announced Friday, hailing the move as a significant development in their ongoing fight against the widespread scheme.
Wednesday's arrests were expected to make a dent in the prevalence of the scam in which fraudsters impersonate Canada Revenue Agency employees, along with the smaller bank investigator and tech support scams, Insp. Jim Ogden told a news conference.
"We have disrupted the necessary flow of money from Canada to India, which will have a big impact on the operation and the bottom line of the scammers," he said.
Between 2014 and 2019, the CRA scam has resulted in victims losing more than $16.8 million. When combined with the other two scams, it jumps to a total of $30 million over that period, police said.
Ogden alleged the couple would receive boxes of cash from Canadians and forward the money to the scams' base in India. He didn't say how much money they're accused to have laundered, but noted $27,000 cash and more than $100,000 in jewelry was allegedly seized from their Brampton, Ont., home.
Both Gurinderpreet Dhaliwal, 37, and his wife Inderpreet Dhaliwal, 36, of Brampton, Ont., are charged with fraud over $5,000, laundering the proceeds of crime and property obtained by crime.
They've also issued a Canada-wide arrest warrant for Shantanu Manik, a 26-year-old foreign national who they believe is now in India.
The developments come as part of the ongoing Project Octavia, which is being run by the RCMP Greater Toronto Area Financial Crime section. It was initially conceived as a campaign to inform Canadians about the scams and provide intel to investigators in India, Ogden said.
The probe has helped lead to call centres being broken up in India, he said, but this is a milestone.
"This was a big step we were able to take, to actually find Canadians who were involved as money mules," he said.
He added that the damage caused by the scam goes beyond the money Canadians have lost.
"The scam has caused fear due to the threat of arrest by the fraudsters who claim to be from various Canadian government agencies," Ogden said. "This has led to Canadians becoming wary or suspicious even when the CRA is attempting legitimate contact."
The government's fight against the scammers has been multi-pronged, with some telephone providers being called on to update their technology to protect against spoof calls.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced late last year that it expected telecom companies to implement systems by Sept. 30, 2020, that will give consumers who use Internet Protocol or VOIP-based phones, or mobile phones, the ability to verify whether calls they receive are from legitimate people, businesses or government agencies.
Ogden said the police probe is far from over.
"Further arrests and charges may result from this investigation. We remain steadfast in our pursuit."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2020.
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press