In 2017, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) received over 81,000 scam reports, with more than $2.4 million being paid to scammers and almost 10,000 people providing their personal information. ATO Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson warns it is peak season for these types of scams which usually pop up from November to June when tax debts are due.
Scammers use a variety of deceptive methods to elicit payments, spread software viruses, and install spyware or malware programs to access or steal personal information. According to Ms Anderson, you should be wary of any phone call, text message, email, or letter about a tax refund or debt, especially if you weren’t expecting it. “The ATO does regularly send emails and SMS’s but there are some tell-tale signs that the correspondence you received isn’t from the ATO.” Keep in mind that representatives of the ATO will never:
- act in an abusive or offensive manner or threaten you with immediate arrest
- ask you to transfer money into an account with a BSB that is not held with the Reserve Bank of Australia (BSBs 092-009 or 093-003)
- ask for payment through unusual methods such as iTunes gift cards, pre-paid Visa cards, or cryptocurrency
- ask you for your credit card details in order to receive a refund or other payment
- request a fee in order to release a refund owed to you
- use email, text messages or social media to ask you to update or provide personal information, supply your TFN, credit card or bank details; or
- send you downloadable files or tell you to install software.
New phone scam – imitating ATO switchboard numbers
Earlier this year, the ATO warned of an increase in incidences of scammers contacting members of the public pretending to be from the ATO claiming that there are outstanding tax debts and threatening the taxpayer with arrest if the debt is not paid immediately.
Recently, this scam has evolved and scammers are using technology to make it look like the calls originate from a legitimate ATO phone number. This number may appear on caller ID or be left on voice mail messages. Most frequently the number appearing is 6216 1111, but other numbers have been used as well.
If you are in doubt about the legitimacy of an ATO phone call you can:
- contact your tax adviser to check that the call or correspondence is legitimate
- independently locate a contact number for the organisation referenced in the call or email; or
- call the ATO on 1800 008 540 to check if the call was legitimate or report the scam.
New phone scam – fake tax agent
In September 2018, the ATO warned of a new scam which involves initiating a three-way conversation between the scammer, the victim, and another scammer who impersonates the victim’s tax agent.
Scammers call or leave a voicemail for people advising they are from the ATO and that the taxpayer would go to jail for five years if they did not engage with the ATO regarding an outstanding debt. The scam victims are advised to make a payment straight away as the federal police had been assigned to the case and the debt needs to be settled immediately to avoid further action.
If the scam victim says they have a tax agent, the scammer proceeds to dial in the agent via a three-way conference call. Another scammer then impersonates a staff member of the tax agent’s practice and advises that the person’s usual advisor is in a meeting but that they can assist with the enquiry. A fake conversation then follows between the original scammer and the fake tax agent whereby they agree there was an error with the person’s tax return and that they do indeed owe money to the ATO which must be settled immediately. The scam victim is then directed to pay the fake tax debt via cryptocurrency or pre-paid credit card.
If you receive a call like this, you can hang up and call your tax agent independently. Alternatively, hang up and call the ATO on 1800 008 540 to check if the call was legitimate or report the scam.
How to spot a scam
Most importantly, know the status of your tax affairs. If you are aware of the details of debts owed, refunds due and lodgements outstanding, you are less likely to fall victim to a scam. You can regularly check these details via myGov or by contacting your Marsh & Partners advisor.
Other indicators to identify a scammer:
- they may tell you a complaint has been made against you and you are committing tax fraud or claim that you have to pay a debt that you know nothing about
- they may threaten immediate arrest or court if you don’t call them back or pay straight away
- they won’t provide explanations or allow you to ask questions about the debt and often get aggressive or abusive
- they will ask you to pay using unusual methods of payment that the ATO does not use such as iTunes, Bitcoin cryptocurrency, store gift cards or pre-paid visa cards
- they may offer a tax refund, but you have to provide a personal credit card number for the funds to be deposited into. The ATO does not issue refunds to credit cards.
If you are in doubt about an interaction you have had with someone claiming to be from the ATO you can contact our office and we will make enquiries on your behalf. You can reach us on 07 3023 4800 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively, you can:
- call the ATO on 1800 008 540 between 8:00am and 6:00pm Monday to Friday to verify the legitimacy of the contact
- forward the entire email to the ATO at ReportEmailFraud@ato.gov.au
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