My friend’s aunty, Rachel, was frantic by the time she reached the post office. The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) had been on her case for days about an overdue tax debt that she didn’t even know she had, and if she didn’t send them a cheque for $7,500 today, huge financial penalties would be added to her bill.
She shared as much with the Australia Post counter staff – and fortunately, they smelled a rat.
“The ATO don’t usually ask you to pay by sending a bank cheque made out to ‘cash’,” the staff member told Rachel. “Are you sure you’re not being scammed?”
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Rachel called the ATO immediately on her mobile phone, and that’s when she discovered she had almost sent $7,500 to a scammer.
She didn’t owe the ATO anything.
These types of rip-off schemes are becoming so prevalent that the ATO has issued a warning, as scammers are ramping up their activity in September.
Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson says the latest method to swindle unsuspecting taxpayers of their funds involved a three-way telephone conversation, between the scammer, the victim, and another scammer impersonating the victim’s tax agent.
“One recent example had a taxpayer unfortunately thinking the telephone conversation was legitimate, and ended up withdrawing thousands of dollars in cash and depositing it into a Bitcoin ATM, fearing the police had a warrant out for his arrest,” Anderson says.
It’s the time of year that tax scammers get the most active: during July and August, the ATO has received over 7000 scam reports, and almost $190,000 has been paid to scammers. That’s only the funds that have been reported, too – it could be double that amount, or worse. Some people may have sent funds off not even realising they were swindled.
Part of the problem is that these scammers often originate from Asia or India. Australians are so accustomed to organisations and departments like the ATO outsourcing their call centre functions to these cheaper economies, that it doesn’t raise any red flags to hear from an accented caller.
Anyone can fall victim to these scams, so protect yourself from these dodgy operators by asking if you can call them back. If it’s a legitimate call from the ATO or a similar party, then they would have no problem with you hanging up and calling back. Importantly, they would also never get aggressive or pushy with you, the way a scammer would, so if their attitude shifts, this is a sure sign of immoral intentions. More information on how to protect yourself is available here.