The ATO has warned the Australian public of scammers posing as the ATO while demanding bitcoin, among other forms of currency as payments for fake debt.
The assistant commission, Kath Anderson said last week that the ATO had been aware of the scammers since late 2017.
“We became aware of scammers seeking payment in bitcoin last year. So far we have seen over $50,000 paid in bitcoin to scammers claiming fake ATO tax debts,” Ms Anderson said.
“Cryptocurrency operates in a virtual world, and once the scammers receive payment, it’s virtually impossible to get it back.”
Continuing, she warned that as scammers are continuously evolving their methods to maximise their opportunities to steal.
“Unfortunately it was inevitable that scammers would target cryptocurrency given its current popularity and anonymity,” Ms Anderson said.
The cryptocurrency warning is the latest in a series from the ATO. The office has seen a number of iterations of the fake tax debt scam, it noted.
Scammers demanding direct deposits into third-party bank accounts and demands for payment via prepaid iTunes cards or pre-paid Visa gift cards are the most commonly reported.
“In 2017, the ATO received over 80,000 reports of scams, with taxpayers reporting almost $2.4 million lost to scammers claiming to be from the ATO,” Ms Anderson said.
“Over $900,000 worth of iTunes gift cards were reportedly paid to scammers – by almost one-third of all victims. We are hoping that the new warnings Apple is including on their gift cards will help people realise the ATO doesn’t accept payment in iTunes cards.”
She expressed concern that more than half of all losses have been the result of taxpayers following scammers directions to make deposits directly into third-party bank accounts. In 2017, the ATO received reports of $1.2 million in losses.
The ATO is also alarmed by the incidence of taxpayers sharing personal information, like their Tax File Number with scammers.
Ms Anderson said, “Remember, your personal information is like the keys to your identity – guard it carefully. And if you think you’ve been scammed or would like to confirm the legitimacy of an ATO call or letter, phone us on 1800 008 540.”
“If you receive a phone call out of the blue, threatening police or legal action if you don’t pay a debt, or the person calling you is rude and aggressive, hang up, it won’t be the ATO. Any call-back number provided should be checked via an independent internet search to ensure you are calling the ATO.”