According to ATO assistant commissioner Kath Anderson, the method saw scammers start a three-way phone conversation with the victim, the scammer and another scammer pretending to be the victim’s tax agent.
Scammers consider tax time a fertile period as taxpayers expect to be contacted by the ATO, and will often impersonate ATO staff as well.
“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,” Ms Anderson said.
“We are at the half-way 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.”
While Australians are good at picking out scams, she warned that scammer sophistication is also increasing.
“One taxpayer received an email which appeared to be from the ATO. The email requested her to click a link to download her BAS for lodgement. Clicking the link ran malicious software which gave the scammer access to all data on her computer. She later found that her credit rating had been severely impacted as the scammers racked up large unpaid debts in her and her business’ name,” she said.
“Scammers aren’t just looking at getting a quick fix through an upfront payment. They are increasingly looking to get your personal information, and once they gain this data they can sell it or use it to impersonate you for their own financial gain,” Ms Anderson continued, warning that the appeal of a refund isn’t worth the costs of falling for a scam.
Fake tax debt phone scams are the most common this year, although fake refund scams are also growing in prominence.
“The cloned web addresses linked to scam emails are sometimes difficult to distinguish from ato.gov.au and the compromise of your personal information via this method may remain undetected with impacts only realised many months later,” Ms Anderson said.
However, there are some tell-tale signs. If a person purporting to be from the ATO uses aggressive, threatening or rude behaviour, they’re not from the ATO.
Similarly, the ATO will not ask for payment of a debt through iTunes, cryptocurrency or pre-paid visa cards, and will not request a fee in order to release a refund.
The ATO also won’t send an email or SMS asking the recipient to click on a link, open a file or download an attachment.