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WARNING: Scammers are showing up as the ATO on your caller ID

(Photo: Getty)

The ATO is warning taxpayers to be wary of scammers calling people and pretending to be from the Office and claiming there are outstanding debts that must be paid immediately or otherwise risk arrest.

Just this year alone, the Australian Taxation Office has already received over 40,000 calls of impersonation scams.

The price for falling for these scams is high: in total, more than $1 million has been lost.

And the scammers are getting better at pretending to be legitimate – they’ve used ‘robocall’ technology to manipulate calls to look as though they’re coming from a legitimate ATO phone number, the Office warned.

How the phone scam works

“Scammers are sending pre-recorded messages in record numbers and are manipulating caller identification so that your phone displays a legitimate ATO phone number despite coming from an overseas scammer,” said ATO assistant commissioner Gavin Siebert.

“We are now seeing thousands of Australians missing a call from a scammer, returning the call based on the number on caller ID and speaking to legitimate members of the ATO,” he said.

But there’s one crucial thing to know about genuine ATO calls: they don’t show a number on caller ID, and they don’t use pre-recorded messages.

“If the scammers do make contact, they will request payment of a tax debt – usually through unusual methods like bitcoin, gift cards and vouchers.

“The scammers will threaten you with immediate arrest, attempt to keep you on the line until payment is made and may become rude or aggressive.”

According to the ATO website, the number may appear on caller ID, be left on voicemail messages for call backs, or directed by *69 for call back functionality.

“Scammers do this to make the calls seem more valid when they call people a second time

“If you receive a pre-recorded message claiming to be from us, either hang up or simply delete the voicemail,” advised Siebert.

The numbers often appear as 6216 1111 or 1800 467 033, but even numbers of individual ATO staff have been used, too.

What the real ATO would never do

If your call involved these elements, that’s a telltale sign you’ve been scammed. The real taxation office wouldn’t:

  • threaten you with arrest;
  • demand immediate payment, particularly through unusual means such as bitcoin, pre-paid credit cards or gift cards;
  • refuse to allow you to speak with a trusted advisor or your regular tax agent;
  • or present a phone number on caller ID.

Don’t forget: never call a scammer back on the number they provide, the ATO cautions.

If you’re not sure whether a call is legitimate, hang up and ring 1800 008 540 – the ATO’s scam enquiry phone line – to report a scam or determine if the call was legitimate.

Have there been other scams?

Plenty – they’re alarmingly frequent.

The ATO has been receiving reports of scammers impersonating the taxation office for years, and in December Yahoo Finance received a call from a scammer and managed to catch the second part.

In February, scammers switched tactics and started sending SMS messages instead.

Scammers were busy late last month: gift cards seemed to be the preferred payment of choice, while other scammers were testing their hand at capturing personal information by sending fake ‘tax application refunds’ in an email pretending to be from myGov.

Any scams impersonating the ATO can be reported to 1800 008 540 or emailed to ReportEmailFraud@ato.gov.au. Scams can also be reported to ScamWatch.

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