ATO scam warning. Jim Hobill, in his 80s, sensed he had received a scam phone call from someone claiming to be from the ATO so he called them directly to confirm and he was right. Picture: Mike Dugdale
ATO scam warning. Jim Hobill, in his 80s, sensed he had received a scam phone call from someone claiming to be from the ATO so he called them directly to confirm and he was right. Picture: Mike Dugdale

‘Real’ tax office phone numbers used in scam

CRIMS hellbent on stealing your cash have gone hi-tech, making it harder than ever to spot a fraud call.

And it's working. In the first three months of this year alone, the Australian Tax Office has fielded more than 40,000 "spoofing" complaints and estimated about $1 million has been scammed out of victims. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) Scamwatch received more than 8700 complaints from people who had received calls from a "spoofed" number.

In a "spoof" scam, a scammer "steals" and displays a caller ID from an Australian number, usually one with the same area code as their target. The person receiving the call is unable to tell if the number is from an overseas call centre, which is where most scams originate, or from a legitimate local entity.

If the person misses the call, and dials the number that has been left, they don't get the scammer - they are connected to the legitimate owner of the number, who has no idea their number has been stolen.

To make matters worse, the bad guys are also using "Robocall" tech, capable of dialling thousands of numbers per minute, playing a recorded message when the call is answered, either by voicemail or by a person.

ATO Assistant Commissioner Gavin Siebert said his staff had been receiving unprecedented numbers of calls from victims of spoofing robocall scams.

"Scammers are sending prerecorded 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," Mr Siebert said.

"We are now seeing thousands of Australians missing a call from a scammer, returning the call based on the number on caller ID and speaking to legitimate members of the ATO.

"If the scammers do make contact, they will request payment of a tax debt - usually through unusual methods like bitcoin, gift cards and vouchers.

"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."

He said ATO calls did not show a number on caller ID nor do they use prerecorded messages.

"Taxpayers should be wary of any unexpected phone call, text message or email claiming to be from the tax office," he said.

"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 prerecorded message claiming to be from us either hang up or simply delete the voicemail."

Other common spoofing robocall scams include calls from an accident insurance company asking if the caller has had a recent accident. The caller ID looks legitimate and the scammer may even provide a local business name and address. The scammer pretends the person could be eligible for compensation or an insurance payout, and requests personal details, such as bank account numbers, or upfront payment.

Scammers are also impersonating telecommunications companies.

"At Telstra we are not immune from cybercrime," a Telstra spokesman said.

"Our customers are targeted by cyber criminals through email bill scams or refund notifications, just to name a few.

"We suggest customers who are receiving these types of calls to contact our 'Unwanted Calls' centre. Enterprise customers to contact their Account Executive."

HOW SPOOFING WORKS - THE TECHNICAL EXPLANATION

A Telstra spokesman said:

"Caller Line Identification (CLI) was introduced so customers could enjoy the feature of seeing a number displayed and giving an indication of who is calling before picking up the call," he said.

"Enterprise customers also appreciate this feature as it permits them to display a preferred call-back number on outgoing calls, such as the number of a help desk.

"Ultimately, the number displayed is set by the calling network and passed on to the caller, in addition, there are a number of Voice over IP solution providers that permit their clients to set their own display number for outgoing calls.

"When CLI is used correctly, it is a useful technology, when it is used incorrectly, it is often called 'spoofing'.

Anne and Michael Egan received a number of phone calls from someone claiming to be the ATO demanding money. Picture: Braden Fastier
Anne and Michael Egan received a number of phone calls from someone claiming to be the ATO demanding money. Picture: Braden Fastier

TELSTRA'S TIPS TO AVOID A SCAM

If you receive a phone call out of the blue from someone claiming to be a representative of Telstra and their call relates to a problem with your internet connection, just hang up.

If you're not sure that the person on the other end of the phone is legitimate, hang up and call the organisation by using their contact details from the internet or phone book - not a number they give you.

Be wary of sharing personal, credit card or banking details over the phone, unless you've made the call or the phone number came from a trusted source.

Never give an unsolicited caller remote access to your computer.

Make sure your computer is protected with regularly updated antivirus and anti-spyware software.

Don't respond to unsolicited requests to access your computer - companies will never ask you to do this. The scammer wants to infect your computer so they can access your passwords and personal details.

Beware of requests for your details or money. Don't share this with anyone you don't know and trust.

Be wary of requests for payment through unusual methods, like iTunes cards, gift cards, or virtual currency like Bitcoin.

If your alarm bells are ringing or you think something's not quite right, just hang up.

More info https://exchange.telstra.com.au/how-to-spot-a-scammer/

What should I do if I have been caught?

If you think you have provided bank account or credit card details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.

Reports of telephone scams can be made to the ACCC via the SCAMwatch website at www.scamwatch.gov.au; or call Telstra on 13 22 00.

HOW TO SPOT AN ATO SCAM:

ATO Assistant Commissioner Gavin Siebert said:

While the ATO regularly contacts taxpayers by phone, email and SMS, there are some telltale signs that it isn't the ATO. The ATO will not:

send you an email or SMS asking you to click on a link directing you to a login page;

use aggressive or rude behaviour, or threaten you with immediate arrest, jail or deportation;

request payment of a debt via iTunes or Google Play cards, prepaid Visa cards, cryptocurrency or direct credit to a personal bank account; or

request a fee in order to release a refund owed to you.

HOW TO REPORT AN ATO SCAM

"The community plays an important role in stopping scammer activities 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.

To see our latest alerts and for more information visit ato.go v.au/scams.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF

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 try not to share it on social media.

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.

Know legitimate ways to make payments - scammers may use threatening tactics to trick their victims into paying false debts via prepaid gift cards or by sending money to non-ATO bank accounts. To check that 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 you can.