The Financial Intelligence Unit and the Belize Tax Services Department issued a joint release warning the public and businesspersons to be wary of con artists who may be disguising as representatives or collectors of governmental agencies. Love News spoke with the Director of the FIU, Kent Clare who explained that amid the Covid-19 and significant loss in revenues it is important to be extra vigilant.
Kent Clare, Director, Financial Intelligence Unit: “That was the genesis of the rationale for the FIU approaching BTSD and engaging the Director General Ms.Longsworth about conducting what we did which was a strategic analysis. So as I had mentioned there are global as well as domestic indicators that criminals might be using the legitimate, pretending to be legitimately the competent authority or the officials representing certain organizations to make a profit during COVID times and of course one of the things that were brought to our attention as an FIU globally would have been instances where people are selling fake medicines or actually selling equipment that was destined for your frontline workers PPEs and that kind of thing. Criminals are getting into that business as well as setting up fake organizations begging for donations and so on and one very interesting one has to do with persons who would be asking you to open your bank account your legitimate bank account for them to put the proceeds of crime into and that’s how they’re able to negotiate the system. So all of these things were brought to our attention. We as the FIU sat with other heads of FIUs across the Caribbean and I think I saw the same thing happening in Latin America as well the heads of FIUs were doing the same thing so it was that rationale that allowed us to approach. Not withstanding we did see evidence where persons would complain that persons purporting to be revenue collectors not just from BTSD but from other agencies as well would approach people and say ‘Well you know if you have a tax problem we can fix it if you pay me X,Y,Z.’ So all of these things are threats to the ability of governments to have the resources to take care of their people during these troubled times and so we had to approach the BTSD and undertake to do this analysis.”
Clare went further to say that these situations are not limited to just governmental agencies. He cited several red flags that the public should look out for when paying taxes through a collector.
Kent Clare, Director, Financial Intelligence Unit: “One of the things would generally be that like auditors normally audit in pairs so when you see somebody coming to you alone, a lone wolf coming and wanting to have a conversation about tax matters generally that should be something that allows you to question. Notwithstanding the fact that the persons may have IDs and so on we have seen instances where criminals are very good at replicating these things and they look so legit you would not know. Other things to look at would be when the person brings and assessment to you without due process generally you know the Tax Department would write you, they don’t have to but they would generally write you and say “I want to look at your books.” and they would give you at the end of an audit they would give you a concurrence letter something that says this is what we did, this is what we found, now you have the right to appeal this because we feel that you owe some money but I want you to know that you can appeal so ABCDE and the right of an appeal is so very important to this function. So when you see things like that and somebody coming and saying well it’s kinda like putting a gun to your head “You have to pay this now or else this is what will happen to you.” more likely than not that would be and the tax officers confirm that that’s not how they operate.”
The fraudsters and scammers have become more creative over the years. Their activities have expanded from obtaining property by deception to home invasions. Clare spoke of these instances and how multiple sectors of the community are affected.
Kent Clare, Director, Financial Intelligence Unit: “It’s not just tax revenue. There are persons who pose as police officers, they pose as any agents of government and they will tell you you know if you don’t do XYZ. You would have heard in the past people posing as representatives of the utility companies to gain access to your homes and stuff like that. So what we have done is we have a facility that’s on the FIU’s website and what generally happened in the past is that persons who are designated reporting entities meaning by law they have to report suspicious transactions to the FIU we have broadened that facility to allow the general public to make a report. So you can say well person came by my place and this doesn’t look too proper I want to make a complaint that this person has been harassing me, extorting me or something like that, we have created this facility go online to FIUBelize.org and you will find it there and you can make a complaint and there’s not going to be any record of that which allows somebody to trace who the complainant was that’s between yourselves and the FIU.”