ATO ‘spoofing’ scams on the rise

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is warning Australians not to fall for a scam that has already raked in more than $1 million from unsuspecting victims.

The ATO has received 40,225 reports of impersonation scams in 2019 alone.

Caller ID on missed calls indicates the call came from the ATO. Thinking they have missed important calls, victims call back and speak to someone they think is a real ATO agent.

That is not the case.

The technique of displaying misleading phone numbers is known as ‘spoofing’ and is commonly used by scammers in an attempt to make their interactions with taxpayers appear legitimate, says the ATO.

Assistant Commissioner Gavin Siebert said that scammers have adopted ‘Robocall’ technology to target taxpayers across the country.

“Scammers are sending pre-recorded messages in record numbers and are manipulating caller identification so that your phone displays a legitimate ATO phone number, despite coming from an overseas scammer,” said Mr Siebert.

“We are now seeing thousands of Australians missing a call from a scammer, returning the call based on the number on caller ID and [mistakenly believing they are] speaking to legitimate members of the ATO.

“Our calls do not show a number on caller ID nor do we use pre-recorded messages.

“If the scammers do make contact, they will request payment of a tax debt – usually through unusual methods like bitcoin, gift cards and vouchers. Legitimate ways to pay your tax debt are listed on our website. The scammers will threaten you with immediate arrest, attempt to keep you on the line until payment is made and may become rude or aggressive.

“Taxpayers should be wary of any unexpected phone call, text message or email claiming to be from the tax office. While we may contact you in these ways, if it doesn’t seem right, independently find our phone number and check if the contact was legitimate. If you receive a pre-recorded message claiming to be from us, either hang up or simply delete the voicemail,” said Mr Siebert.

Signs you are being ‘spoofed’ include:

  • receiving an email or SMS from the ATO asking you to click on a link directing you to a login page
  • operators using aggressive or rude behaviour, or threatening you with immediate arrest, jail or deportation
  • ‘agents’ requesting payment of a debt via iTunes or Google Play cards, pre-paid Visa cards, cryptocurrency or direct credit to a personal bank account
  • operators requesting a fee in order to release a refund owed to you.

If you have received one of these calls, emails or messages, please contact the ATO’s dedicated scam reporting line on 1800 008 540 or visit www.ato.gov.au/scams.

If you are unsure about whether a call, text message or email is genuine, don’t reply. Call the ATO on 1800 008 540 to verify.

Related articles:
Scammers pocketing $4.3m a month
Scammers pose as NBN employees
Are you in the ATO’s crosshairs?

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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