Tax scam phone calls: imitating the tax office

Tax time sees an increase in phone calls from "the Australian Tax Office" chasing up debts. Some calls could be legitimate, but many are not. Find out how to identify a scam phone call and how to make sure you’re not being ripped off.

Give me the main points

  • Scammers take advantage of it being tax time for their scam to work.
  • While getting a dodgy phone call is alarming, you shouldn’t let it rattle you.
  • Scam phone calls often don’t sound right – the caller may sound agitated, too keen to extract information from you.
  • The ATO may call you, but they’ll never call to threaten you into repaying a debt.

Thinking about tax time, not scammers

June is tax time. It’s the month to set reminders to book the accountant or to check if your eTax software is up to date. You’ll need to check your file for all of last financial year’s tax receipts.

At this time of year, tax is always there – it’s always on your mind.

It’s also time for scammers to get to work.

While it could happen at any time of year, end of financial year (EOFY) sees an increase in a scam involving criminals making calls, pretending to work for the government.

Getting a scam phone call

Because it’s tax time, criminals will be upping their campaign to steal from you. And there’s a greater chance you’ll fall victim to a tax scam now than you will at other times of the year.

How does it work? You’ll get a sudden, unsolicited phone call from the someone with an impressive sounding title – the ‘Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions’ (CDPP), say, or someone who claims to be from ATO. They’ll tell you you’re in trouble. It might be an outstanding arrest warrant. A mark on your record that you can ‘overturn’ if you pay them immediately.

Don’t be alarmed. Hang up straight away.

Identifying a scam phone call

Scammers are becoming more sophisticated all the time. Still, there are several giveaways that’ll help you work out if a phone call is dodgy.

  • The call may sound automated or unusual.
  • The caller may have an accent or even sound nervous.
  • Some callers may ‘offer you’ a tax refund. Very generous. Except they’ll never send you your promised rebate or refund.
  • They’ll give you a number to call back. Even if it appears local, it could be an internet phone number. Don’t call them back.
  • There may be a delay, which indicates the caller is using an internet phone or calling from overseas.
  • They may ask for your bank account details or other personal information. They'll insist it's for ‘identification purposes’. Don’t be fooled.
  • They’ll request payment in cash or though unusual methods. These could include prepaid debit cards, gift cards , direct transfers to private bank accounts or even an overseas telegraphic transfer – remember it can be very difficult to recover money sent via overseas telegraphic transfer

Knowing the truth this tax time

Both Scamwatch and the CDPP identified the hoax phone call scam in 2015. Their advice remains the same - hang up immediately.
Never provide your personal or bank account details. If you do, the scammer may use these details to steal your money, or worse, your identity.

You could always ask the scammer for their details and offer to call them. If you do, say you'll call them via their local CDPP office or the ATO. You should also contact the ATO (1800 008 540, 8.00am – 6.00pm, Monday to Friday AEST/AEDT) if you think you’ve fallen victim to tax scam.

This isn’t to say that ATO or the CDPP will never ever call you. Each week the ATO makes several thousand legitimate outbound calls a week. But they won’t ever ask you to give your bank account details over the phone. And they’ll never try to threaten you into repaying a debt.

Important information

For further information and examples of scams, check out ATO Online Security.

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