Tax scam phone calls: imitating the tax office

Tax time sees an increase in phone calls from people claiming to be from "the Australian Tax Office" chasing up debts. Some calls could be legitimate, but many are not. Find out how to identify ATO scams and avoid becoming a victim.

Give me the main points

  • Scammers take advantage of it being tax time for their scam to work.
  • While getting a dodgy phone call, email or SMS 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 with immediate arrest
  • ask you to pay a debt by iTunes vouchers or other gift or prepaid cards
  • ask you to pay a fee to receive a refund.

Thinking about tax time, not scammers

July is tax time. It’s the month to set reminders to book the accountant.

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, the end of financial year (EOFY) sees an increase in scams involving criminals making calls, pretending to work for the government.

Getting a scam phone call

During tax time the ATO receives an increase in reports of scams, and criminals may be upping their campaign to steal from you.

How does it work? You may 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 and contact the ATO on 1800 008 540.

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.

  • They leave automated, pre-recorded voicemail messages.
  • The call may sound automated or unusual.
  • 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 provide these details!
  • They’ll request payment in cash or though unusual methods. These could include prepaid debit cards, gift cards, iTunes vouchers, direct transfers to private bank accounts or even an overseas telegraphic transfer.

Knowing the truth this tax time

The ATO and CDPP are aware of scams during Tax Time and 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.

If you wish to confirm the validity of an ATO interaction or think you've fallen victim to tax scam, contact the ATO on 1800 008 540, 8.00am-6.00pm, Monday to Friday AEST/AEDT to make a report. For more inforamtion on how to verify or report a scam visit ato.gov.au/scams, or for free updates on the latest scams, visit Scamwatch.

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, 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.

Have a read of the latest scams, frauds, and phishing alerts.

If you have received a suspicious sms or email, please forward to hoax@nab.com.au.

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