Think you’re too savvy or smart to get hit by scammers this year? Think again.

Scammers in general, particularly ATO impersonation scammers, are constantly improving their attack methods and developing new, believable schemes using the latest technology.

As a result, tax-scam schemes are more believable than ever. This, alongside the fact that scammers’ now have the heightened ability to contact unsuspecting victims more directly and frequently, through channels that otherwise appear reliable; has reportedly cost Australian’s an astounding $489.7million in 2018. This amount has come as the number of reported scams grew to a record-breaking 177,516 throughout last year. According to the ACCC’s Targeting Scams 2018 report, this was an 18% increase from the previous year, with the number one reported scam type being – you guessed it – the now infamous Australian Taxation Office impersonation scam. If you haven’t already heard of it, this scheme often involves scammers pretending that you have an outstanding payment that is owed to the ATO. They then top off this already intimidating claim, by saying they will arrest you if you don’t pay up right away.

Scary? Absolutely. But there’s no reason to allow such scamming threats or the prospect of receiving one to alarm you. It’s just a matter of remaining aware, knowing how to identify a scam in action, as well as having the right support channels and contacts in place to gain advice or report a scam should you run into one.

How do you identify a scam?

There are a few tell-tale signs and characteristics to look for in assessing whether you are the target of an ATO scam. The ATO has recently identified that scammers may:

  1. Demand immediate payment or threaten your arrest:
    The ATO will never insist you stay on the line until you make a payment or use threatening tactics to push you into making a quick payment.
  1. Send unsolicited pre-recorded phone messages:
    The ATO never uses unsolicited pre-recorded messages as a means of getting in contact with you. Never directly respond to these or redial the number presented in your call log, only ever call back – if at all – via an independently sourced number. This is particularly important to keep in mind, since scammers now have the ability to project legitimate numbers on your caller ID (even ATO numbers!), as a way of making you believe that a call originates from Australia.
  1. Refuse to allow you to speak with a trusted advisor or regular tax agent:
    This will be done to prevent anyone from flagging that this is a scam with you. The ATO will never prevent you from discussing any sort of tax affair with an agent or trusted advisor, like us.
  1. Conference call in a fake tax professional:
    The ATO will never conference call in a third party such as law enforcement or tax agent.
  1. Request that you pay in non-standard ways:
    Scammers may request that you make “tax” payments via iTunes, Google Play STEAM or other vouchers. They may even request for payments to be made via cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, or direct deposits into a personal bank account. These accounts may seem legitimate if they appear to be located in Australia, but know that they aren’t. The ATO will never ask you pay your tax debt into a bank account not held by the Reserve Bank of Australia. To discover legitimate ways to pay tax, visit the ATO’s How To Pay webpage.
  1. Request you provide personal identifiers and financial institution details:
    Although the ATO may use SMS or email to request that you contact them, they will never ask you to provide personal identifying information using these methods to receive a refund. Never give out your TFN, date of birth or bank details unless you are dealing with an authenticated professional or genuinely trusted person.
  1. Request that you click on a hyperlink in an email or text message, to log on to an online service:
    These log on sites often look legitimate, and even if they don’t take you anywhere past an account creation page – they will have your details forever once you enter them. Scammers use these sites to obtain and keep your credential information for future misuse.
  1. Request you click an email or text message link to download forms or attachments:
    Always exercise caution when downloading email attachments or clicking links in messages. Scammers can use these as gateways to install viruses on your computer or access personal details and information.
  1. Create fake social media accounts and request personal information or money:
    Although the ATO has a Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn presence, they will never use these platforms to contact you for personal information or to request payment.


What do you do in the event of a scam?

If you feel like you are being scammed, remain calm and hang-up. This may be easier said than done since scammers’ scare tactics can often understandably throw people off their game. Ignoring a phone or email request is always a good step, to allow you time to authenticate whether you are actually being scammed or not. Trust your gut, if something feels wrong, it usually is.

You can contact the ATO directly at 1800 008 540 or ReportEmailFraud@ato.gov.au during working hours week-round, to verify your situation. The ATO also recommends that you check Scamwatch to see if the number that has been used to call you has been flagged as a scam. You can also simply check your MyGov account to see if you truly have any outstanding tax debts.

Unfortunately, if you end up following through with a scammer’s request and lose money or personal information as a result, there’s not much that can be done to recoup your losses. If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, ensure you report the incident to police. Alternatively, if you think you have been the target of an online attack, report your case to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network immediately.

Who else can you contact for support?

Aside from the ATOs verifying and support contacts, know that the staff at Nexis are always here to advise you in helping to identify and manage any potential tax or financial scams. We aim our best to say up to date with the ATOs latest tax-scam trends and reports and highly value the importance of maintaining your financial security.

According to the ATO, they have already received over 50,225 reports of impersonation scams in 2019. Let’s play a part in halting that statistics by remaining aware, vigilant and staying scammer smart!