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Warning on phone scam – imitating ATO


Authorities are seeing an increased number of reports of scammers contacting members of the public pretending to be from the ATO and claiming that there are outstanding tax debts and threatening people with arrest if the debt is not paid immediately. Reports of these scams have jumped significantly during the past month. The scam is timed to coincide with the cut-off date for people needing to have their tax returns submitted to the Australian Tax Office. Most of these scams occur over the phone. People get a call from an aggressive scammer directly or receive a robotic-sounding voice message informing them they need to contact a phone number in relation to an outstanding tax debt, or face imminent arrest and jail time. The scammer pretends to be from the Australian Tax Office or the police to scare people into believing the contact is real. They will tell people to buy gift cards like iTunes or Google Play to ‘pay’ the tax debt or a fine. They may also get people to send money by other methods like Bitcoin ATMs or pre-paid credit cards.This is a scam. The tax office will never threaten you with arrest, or demand immediate payment of a tax debt or fine with unusual payment methods like gift cards or Bitcoin. If you ever get a call or email claiming you will be arrested due to a tax debt, simply hang up the phone or delete the email. Do not call the number provided in the phone message or email you receive. If you’re concerned the contact may be legitimate, you can also call the ATO on 1800 008 540 to check its veracity. You can also report the scam at www.scamwatch.gov.au/report-a-scam.

There is also an evolution of this tactic where the 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, be left on voice mail messages for call backs, or directed by *69 for call back functionality. Scammers do this to make the calls seem more valid when they call people a second time. Most frequently the number appearing is 6216 1111, but other numbers have been used as well.

While these scam calls may appear to be from the ATO with a spoofed caller ID, it is important to remember that a legitimate caller from the ATO will never:

  • threaten you with arrest

  • demand immediate payment, particularly through unusual means such as bitcoin, pre-paid credit cards or gift cards

  • refuse to allow you to speak with a trusted advisor or your regular tax agent

  • or present a phone number on caller ID

Never call a scammer back on the number they provide. If in doubt, independently locate a contact number for the organisation referenced in the call or email.

If you are in any doubt about an ATO call hang up and phone us on 1800 008 540 to check if the call was legitimate or report a scam.

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