The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is warning the public to watch out for phone calls from fraudsters during tax time. The latest method involves a three-way phone call between the scammer, the victim and a second scammer impersonating the victim’s tax agent.
“One recent example had a taxpayer unfortunately thinking the telephone conversation was legitimate, and ended up withdrawing thousands of dollars in cash and depositing it into a Bitcoin ATM, fearing the police had a warrant out for his arrest,” Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson said.
Fraudsters are continuously devising new and ingenious methods to trick the innocent taxpayer. “While we see new scams pop up from time to time, the most common scam is still the ‘fake tax debt’ phone scam, though the ‘fake refund’ and ‘refund for a fee’ scams are on the rise,” Ms. Anderson said.
According to ATO intelligence reports, over $190,000 was paid to fraudsters in July and August. Some 7,000 scams were reported to the ATO hotline with around 1,600 of the victims having revealed their personal and financial information to the fraudsters.
"We are at the halfway point of tax time, and we've seen an increase in reports in recent months. In September we typically see these high volumes continue, so we are warning the community to be on the lookout for things that don't look or feel quite right,” Anderson said.
Nowadays it is easier than ever for scammers to obtain personal details of victims online through social media profiles. The sensible thing to do is check your privacy settings so personal information is switched from public to private access. Tax files, birth certificates and other official documents should be stored in a secure place, preferably offline and not on your smartphone.
ATO announced five indicators to determine whether the call you receive is from a scammer:
- They tell you that you are committing tax fraud, have to pay a debt, or a complaint has been made against you that you know nothing about .
- They threaten you with immediate arrest or court if you don't call them back or pay up immediately.
- The caller won’t answer certain questions you ask about the debt, and become abusive or aggressive.
- They ask you to pay using non traditional methods of payment including Bitcoin cryptocurrency, iTunes, store gift cards or pre-paid Visa cards. The ATO does not use these forms of payment.
- They offer you a tax refund and you have to provide a personal credit card number to be reimbursed. The ATO never issues refunds to credit cards.
Tax phishing is also undergone through email, SMS and website. The cloned website and URL look similar to www.ato.gov.au. If you experience a suspected scam attempt, you can call the ATO directly at 1800 008 540.