An elderly man was threatened with arrest and fleeced of $236,000 as a result of a recorded phone scam claiming to represent the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
He was one of the 6000 victims who have since July handed over personal and banking details to callers impersonating the tax man.
The ATO said yesterday that in November alone, a flood of scam phone calls had netted more than $800,000 from unsuspecting Australians who believed they faced arrest.
The recorded message orders people to return the call immediately on hanging up or an arrest warrant will be issued.
Aged in his 70s, the scam victim reportedly paid the funds over the course of five months through a combination of bank transfers and iTunes vouchers, the ATO told YourLifeChoices.
“A relative of the NSW gentleman, who is more than 70 years old, reported the scam to the ATO via the dedicated scam line 1800 008 540,” the tax office said.
“The ATO cannot directly prosecute for scam activity unless it results in tax or superannuation fraud. Scammer activity is a matter for local law enforcement.
“As such any payments made to scammers should be immediately reported to the police. You should also contact your bank or financial institution if you have given your credit card or bank details to someone who shouldn’t have them.
“Due to the overseas nature of this criminal activity prosecution is problematic and recovery of funds is highly unlikely.”
The ATO has warned Australians to be on high alert for the calls, which can be easily identified as a robotic message in a male voice with an American accent.
Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson said over the past month the ATO has seen an increase in scam phone calls, especially those using software that resembles a legitimate phone number to disguise the caller’s true identity.
“The ATO does not project our numbers using caller ID. You can be confident that if there is a number displayed in your caller ID, it isn’t the ATO,” Ms Anderson said.
More than 37,000 reports of scam attempts were reported in November alone, with one elderly person losing more than $236,000 to scammers between June and November this year.
“Taxpayers 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,” she said.
While the ATO regularly contacts taxpayers by phone, email and SMS, there are some tell-tale signs that the scammers are not genuine. The ATO will not:
- use aggressive or rude behaviour, or threaten you with arrest, jail or deportation
- request payment of a debt via iTunes, pre-paid visa cards, cryptocurrency or direct credit to a bank account with a BSB that isn’t either 092-009 or 093-003
- request a fee in order to release a refund owed to you
- send you an email or SMS asking you to click on a link to provide login, personal or financial information, or to download a file or open an attachment.
“If you suspect that you have been contacted by a scammer, you should contact our call centre. It’s okay to hang up and phone us on 1800 008 540 to check if the call was legitimate or to report a scam,” Ms Anderson said.
“While phone scams are the most common at the moment, scammers are constantly changing tactics.
“Taxpayers play an important role in stopping scammer activity by reporting them to our scam line. Your reports help us to get an accurate picture of what is happening with the current scams, which ultimately helps protect the Australian community.”
The ATO’s dedicated scam reporting line is 1800 008 540. For the latest alerts and more information, visit ato.gov.au/scams.
These are the ATO’s top tips to protect yourself from scammers:
- Know your tax affairs – you can log into myGov to check your tax affairs at any time, or you can contact your tax agent or the ATO.
- Guard your personal and financial information – be careful when clicking on links, downloading files or opening attachments. Only give your personal information to people you trust, and don’t share it on social media.
- If you are unsure about whether a call, text message or email is genuine, don’t reply. Instead, call the ATO on 1800 008 540.
- Know the legitimate ways to make payments – scammers may use threatening tactics to trick their victims into paying false debts with pre-paid gift cards or by sending money to non-ATO bank accounts. To check whether a payment method is legitimate, visit ato.gov.au/howtopay.
- Talk to your family and friends about scams – if you or someone you know has fallen victim to a tax-related scam, call the ATO as soon as possible.
Have you received a scam phone call or email claiming to be from the ATO or any other authority? If so, what did you do?