Spike in reports – tax scam threats leave WA victims $80,000 out of pocket

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A spike in reports of Western Australians losing money to the tax debt scam has prompted Consumer Protection to issue an alert in an effort to reduce the mounting losses.

So far this year, 21 victims have reported to WA ScamNet losing a total of $78,250 with 11 victims losing $38,800 just last month. The highest single loss was $10,200. Most were ordered to pay their supposed tax debt by purchasing either iTunes or Google Play cards which the scammers are able to on-sell.

Nationally, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) states that 37,000 people reported losing a total of $800,000 in November alone. One victim lost more than $236,000.

In this scam, victims are cold-called by scammers claiming to be from the tax office demanding that a bogus tax debt be paid immediately and threatening imminent arrest or deportation. If the people targeted don’t answer their phones, a threatening automated voicemail message is left urging them to call a number urgently.

Being an Australian number, people think that it is authentic, but the call is usually diverted overseas. The ATO advises that their outgoing calls do not have caller ID so this is the first indication it is a scam attempt.

Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard said the period from July to December is a peak time for tax scam activity.

“Many people are finalising their tax affairs after the end of the financial year, so it wouldn’t be unusual to get a call from the tax office and the scammers are preying on this,” Mr Hillyard said.

“It’s essential that people know that the tax office will never make threatening phone calls so be wary if you receive these calls and don’t be intimidated as the scammers want to create a situation of fear and urgency.

“Hang up and, if you are concerned, contact the ATO independently on their official number to verify the call was fake, but don’t use any numbers that have come from the caller.

“The ATO will never demand payment using iTunes or Google Play cards or, in some cases, money transfer services or Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

“Be aware that you may also get emails or SMS messages purporting to be from the ATO, prompting you to click on a link or open an attachment, which seek to get personal information from you that could lead to your identity being stolen.”

Advice issued by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to protect against falling victim:

  • 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.
  • Know legitimate ways to make payments - scammers may use threatening tactics to trick their victims into paying false debts in pre-paid 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.

Information and advice on scams is available on the WA ScamNet website www.scamnet.wa.gov.au. Enquiries can be made to Consumer Protection by email consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au or by calling 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
06 Dec 2018

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