Centrelink phone scam threatens victims with jail

centrelink phone scam

A frightening new Centrelink scam is catching out unsuspecting Aussies who just want to do the right thing.

Services Australia is warning that many Centrelink recipients are receiving scam phone calls claiming to be from its legal department.

The caller claims the recipient owes a debt and they need to pay immediately or risk jail time.

The scammers have been asking victims to make payments through a bank transfer, gift cards and even cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

Read: Telco fined for breaching phone scam rules

Services Australia says asking for these types of alternative payment methods is a good indicator the call is not legitimate.

“If you’ve been overpaid and have a debt, we will sometimes call or text to let you know,” Services Australia confirmed.

“However, we’ll always write to you by post or your myGov inbox to let you know about your debt. If you’re not sure if a call about a debt is legitimate, phone us on your regular payment line to check. “

Remember also that Services Australia would never threaten to arrest or jail someone. If matters really had progressed to that stage, you would be dealing with the police in person.

Read: Strict rules for mobile providers after text scam losses

If you receive a call like this, your best course of action is to hang up immediately. Don’t return the call and if they do manage to speak to you, don’t reveal any personal details.

“Scams can be hard to pick,” says Services Australia.

“If you’re worried you’ve given personal details to a scammer, we can help. You should call or email the Scams and Identity Theft Helpdesk straight away if you’re concerned about a call you’ve received.”

News of the scam comes after Australians lost more than $2 billion to scams in 2021, the highest tally on record, according to a report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Read: How loneliness can put people more at risk of being scammed

The ACCC says people aged 65 and over reported the highest losses of any age group, and that losses increased steadily with age.

“Scam activity continues to increase, and last year a record number of Australians lost a record amount of money,” says Delia Rickard, deputy chair of the ACCC.

“The true cost of scams is more than a dollar figure as they also cause serious emotional harm to individuals, families, and businesses.”

The ACCC report also showed just how prevalent scams are in the community. More than 95 per cent of respondents said they had been exposed to scammers in the past five years, with around 20 per cent actually falling victim.

Of those who lost money, 56 per cent were unable to recover any of it.

So, if you receive a phone call from Centrelink that you’re not quite sure about – hang up, don’t engage the caller and contact Centrelink immediately.

Have you received this suspicious phone call? What other scams have you come across? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer

Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.

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  1. I started receiving letters from Centrelink stating that we had been overpaid “r$62.05 Rent assistance.” I immediately responded by claiming a review, as there was no detail for when we were overpaid, why we were overpaid, or what location this overpayment referred to.

    We live on the road fulltime, and complete “Rent Declaration” forms each and every time we pay for site fees or caravan park rent. Even claiming $10 a night for low cost camping, keeps them informed about where we are, how long we were there, and when the claim for assistance is to end. We have had Centrelink staff tell us “Write as much information as you can on the form before submitting it.” Then the next Centrelink office tells us; “NO – don’t write anything on the form as it confuses the computer system.”

    And Centrelink staff mostly have no idea about “Rent Declaration Forms” – including Hank Yongen – The Families Department General manager, who is all over Facebook telling us oldies what we should and shouldn’t do to get our claims and payments in order.

    We have been harrassed to the point of anger, when last month, I tried to find out about the two letters I received, the two reviews I asked for, and the “non-response” from Centrelink at their office in North Hobart. The woman behind the counter was nice, but the woman we spoke to had no idea. We left just as confused as when we had arrived.

    I started ringing Centrelink – and after getting through the “In Australia. my voice identifies me” – 3 times – I rang the Complaints line – and a great young man answered. After searching our records, he found everything he needed, to tell me that our case had been put in the “too hard bin” back in February”, but nothing else had been done to resolve the issues, and so I was getting bombarded with stupid messages and stupid staff at Centrelink.

    This young fella, sorted out my issues, by sending it back for review, stating that “You will NNOT receive any more messages, statements or letters – UNTIL it has gone through the review process, and someone will come back to you personally – to discuss the outcome.”

    Problem is – Centrelink staff ring using “Unknown Numbers” – WILL NOT leave a message, and so we go around in circles again! So I don’t answer, thinking it is a SCAM call!

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