Tax scam escalates and victim losses mount

This announcement is for: 
Consumer

Reports of more Western Australians falling victim to an aggressive tax phone scam have escalated in recent weeks, prompting another urgent warning from Consumer Protection.

The scam involves fraudsters posing as Australian Taxation Office (ATO) employees who attempt to force people to pay a fake tax debt by threatening arrest if they don’t comply.

In the latest case, an 81 year old man from Perth’s western suburbs, who is nursing his ill wife, has told Consumer Protection that he lost $110,000 to the scam, the largest loss to this type of scam ever reported in WA. He was contacted by scammers saying he would be jailed if a tax debt was not paid immediately. Threats were also made regarding the potential loss of employment of his three children.

The man was harassed and threatened over a three week period since the beginning of June. During this time he made up to 15 separate payments by bank transfers and wire transfers via MoneyGram. He became suspicious when he refused to pay a further demand for $32,000 and the amount was then discounted to $15,000.

This case brings the total reported losses to the tax phone scam in WA so far this year to more than $157,000, with Consumer Protection receiving 866 enquiries about the scam. The vast majority of the enquiries and loss reports were received in the past two months with 328 enquiries and $20,586 in losses reported in May and 393 enquiries and $127,635 in losses reported in June.

Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll is alarmed at the huge increase in the reported losses to this scam and the aggressive nature of the calls.

“I am concerned that the increasingly threatening nature of the scam calls is intimidating many in our community, including Seniors, with the urgent demands forcing victims to respond and lose their money to these heartless and ruthless criminals,” Ms Driscoll said.

“The tax phone scam has been around for many years but I am disturbed that the scammers have now heightened their threatening tactics to coerce victims into transferring money to pay fictitious tax bills or get fictitious refunds or rebates.

“The most recent tactic has been hostile threats of court action, an arrest warrant or even prison for tax evasion unless money is paid as soon as possible. The money is usually asked to be sent by either bank transfer to an account likely to be opened with a stolen identity or belonging to a money mule, Load & Go card or by wire transfer services such as Western Union or Moneygram.

“It’s important to remember that the ATO will never ask for funds in this aggressive manner.

“This is the time of year when you may think a call from the ATO about your tax return is not unusual.  Don’t be tricked into transferring money for any reason. If in doubt, contact the ATO independently to verify if the call was genuine, but don’t use any contact numbers or email addresses provided by the caller.”

Consumer Protection’s advice:

  • The ATO makes thousands of outbound calls to taxpayers every week, but would never contact you about a debt in this threatening manner. Nor would the ATO demand that you load money onto a prepay card at the post office or ask you to send funds via wire transfer services.
  • Generally the ATO would send an SMS and or letter to remind you that a payment was due. If they don’t get a response from this, they would then call to discuss payment of the outstanding debt.
  • There are three simple steps you can take if you have any concerns or suspicions:
  1. Confirm the caller’s name and title and why they are calling.
  2. Call the ATO switchboard on 13 28 69 and ask to be put through to the person who just called you.
  3. Most importantly, never send money or give financial details to someone you don’t know or trust.

The ATO has further information on its website: https://www.ato.gov.au/Media-centre/Media-releases/Protect-yourself-against-phone-scams/

For further information on scams visit www.scamnet.wa.gov.au or enquiries can be made by emailing wascamnet@commerce.wa.gov.au or calling 1300 30 40 54.

END OF RELEASE

Media contact (Consumer Protection)

Consumer Protection
Media release
30 Jun 2015

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