Australians are receiving automated phone messages purporting to be from the tax office that claim they will be arrested for tax evasion and tax avoidance if they do not call a specified ‘hotline’ number.
The calls are not from the ATO. Instead, they are scams designed to trick people into sending money and personal information to criminals. If you call back on the number left by the scammers, you will be told that you must immediately send money via a wire service such as Western Union to cover a supposed tax debt and avoid arrest. The scammers may also ask you to provide a large amount of your personal and financial information, which they may later use to steal your identity.
Transcript of one of the phone scam message:
A few days back, I received a voice mail message from a person who claimed he was from the tax office. The man claimed that my tax account had been marked delinquent ‘due to tax evasion and tax avoidance’. Supposedly, the tax office had repeatedly tried to contact me at my registered address with no result. Thus, claimed the message, the tax office had no option other than to issue a warrant for my arrest. But, apparently, I could still avoid this unfortunate outcome by calling back on a specified ‘hotline number’.
Of course, the message was certainly not left by anybody at the ATO. Nor was I about to be arrested and taken away in disgrace to face tax avoidance and evasion charges. In fact, the message was the work of a grubby little scammer intent on stealing my money and personal information.
Many other people have reported receiving similar automated messages. The automated message ruse appears to be an attempt to filter recipients and hone in on potential victims. Of course, many – if not most – recipients of the message will immediately recognise the call as a scam and just ignore it. But a few naive or vulnerable people will likely be panicked by the message and call back as directed. Thus, the criminals can concentrate on scamming these vulnerable few without wasting their time on the majority of more savvy recipients.
So what happens if you DO call back?
The scammers on the other end of the line will be belligerent and intimidating and threaten dire and immediate consequences if you do not comply with their demands. In most cases, you will be told to hang up the phone and go to your nearest post office or Western Union outlet and wire a specified amount of money according to the sending instructions they provide. They will tell you that the money is going straight to the ATO, but it will, of course, be going directly to them. They will tell you that sending the payment is the only way to avoid arrest. They may also demand that you provide a large amount of your personal and financial information, ostensibly so that they can finalise your ‘case’ and dismiss the charges against you after you have paid up. They may later use this information to steal your identity.
In some variations, the scammers may ask you to pay directly over the phone via a credit card or ask you to send your money via various alternative methods.
There are also many other variations of these phone scams, all of which involve giving your money and personal information to criminals. And, very similar scams occur all around the world, not just in Australia. Don’t get caught out by these scammers. Make sure you know how these scammers operate so that you can be forewarned should you receive such a call. And, take the time to ensure that potentially vulnerable relatives and friends are aware of such scams.