Scams will typically increase at special times of the year, and while holidays play a big part, tax time is one of the more critical seasons for scammers. With so many of us running to get our taxes done to get our money and tax returns sorted, there’s little wonder why scammers try hard to win big here.
With Australians losing over $489 million to scams in the past year, an increase on the previous year, it’s proof that criminals are making money on scams. This isn’t limited to tax scams, but rather the entire bunch.
Tax scams are still quite lucrative, and of that $489 million, $4.2 million came from scams impersonating the Australian Taxation Office. That’s a lot of money, and a lot of good reasons to stay ahead of scammers.
How scammers will call
With a new tax season in effect, one scam that is picking up steam is the ATO robo-call scam, whereby an automated voice calls and threatens you with a penalty if you don’t comply or press a number. Compliance in the ATO robo-call scam involves payment of some sort, such as buying gift cards or transferring Bitcoin, with an excuse as to why this is the case usually occurring later on.
In these scams, the aim is to threaten you into compliance because someone claiming to be from the tax office is calling. Whether you follow the scammers directions or not, you won’t suffer a penalty or be charged with a crime. The scammer is attempting to con you, and there is no penalty, beyond that of falling for the scammer’s tricks.
It is highly doubtful that the ATO will call you about a serious penalty or threaten with arrest from a phone call.
In fact, if one of these calls attempts to force you to press a number on your phone to evade the penalty, there’s a good chance that number press will just end up connecting you through to a scammer on the other end of the line who will go into more detail and attempt to lure you deeper into the con.
“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 Gavin Siebert, Assistant Commissioner for the Australian Taxation Office, the ATO.
“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. Our calls do not show a number on caller ID nor do we use pre-recorded messages,” he said.
Ultimately, if you get a call from someone claiming to be from the Tax Office with a pre-recorded message., your best bet is to hang up and move on. Scammers are preying on the chance that you’ll take one of their calls as being serious, and that you’ll fall for it.
If you have suspicions that the call might be genuine, hang up immediately and consider calling the ATO back on the numbers on its website to check if someone from the office was calling you. It’s unlikely that the call was the real deal, and you’ll have evaded a scam, saving you money and teaching you something in the process.
If you get a call from someone claiming to be from the Tax Office that is automated and robotic — if it sound pre-recorded and you can’t interrupt it — hang up. If that call tells you that you are to suffer a penalty, it is definitely a scam and you should hang up.