Phone threats from scammers lead to losses over fake tax debt

This announcement is for: 
Consumer

Losses are mounting following a spate of phone threats and voicemails from scammers demanding the payment of a fake tax debt or the victim will be arrested.

So far this year, WA ScamNet at Consumer Protection has received 97 reports of tax phone scams with 15 victims losing a total of $188,200. The highest loss amount by one victim was $60,000. This compares with 2019 figures when $100,450 was lost between 22 victims and a total of 51 reports.

People have reported receiving pre-recorded phone messages claiming to be from a government agency such as the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Department of Home Affairs or Services Australia.

The call prompts the receiver to press 1 which takes them through to a person who presents themselves as either working for these agencies or is a case worker dealing with the matter. The victim is told that their Tax File Number has been linked to fraudulent activity and a warrant has been issued for their arrest or they have an outstanding tax debt that they must pay immediately otherwise they will be arrested.

Commissioner for Consumer Protection Lanie Chopping said, in some cases, victims are asked what their closest police station is, and they later receive a fake call from that police station.

“The scammers spoof or copy the number of the police station so the victim believes the call is legitimate,” Ms Chopping said.

“They are told to go to their bank and withdraw money that will be safeguarded from the fraudulent activity or that they must pay this money to pay off their outstanding debt. Once funds are withdrawn, they are instructed to purchase gift cards and provide the codes on the back to the caller.

“The victim is usually kept on the phone while they are driving to their bank and retailers to purchase the gift cards. On a few occasions the victim has been asked to convert their funds into crypto-currency and send that via an online wallet.

“Some consumers have been able to work out that it is a scam by calling their local police station directly and confirming that no one at the station had called them about being arrested.”

How to protect yourself:

  • Confirm the caller’s name, title and why they are calling.
  • Call the ATO on 1800 008 540 to verify the ATO contact.
  • Never send money or give financial/personal details to someone you don’t know or trust.
  • If you have provided your financial information, contact your financial provider immediately.
  • The ATO will never leave pre-recorded messages
  • Government agencies never demand payment through unusual means like gift cards or crypto-currency
  • Government agencies will never threaten immediate arrest
  • Do not call back numbers left in voicemails
  • Search for legitimate number of agency and call directly to verify the call
  • If in doubt – contact WA ScamNet on 1300 30 40 54

For further information or to report a scam go to the WA ScamNet website www.scamnet.wa.gov.au or call 1300 30 40 54.

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Media Contact: Alan Hynd, (08) 6552 9248 / 0429 078 791 / alan.hynd@dmirs.wa.gov.au

Consumer Protection
Media release
16 Oct 2020

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