Australian residents have been receiving scam phone calls in which they are told that the government owes them a substantial sum of money, usually several thousand dollars.
The scammers claim to be Australian Government staff members and often name a specific government department such as the Department of Finance or the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
The scammers invent various scenarios to explain why the unexpected rebates are being paid. They may claim that your bank has been mistakenly collecting extra fees from your account over a period of years and you are therefore owed a lump sum reimbursement. Or, they may claim that the money is a return on a long-term government or superannuation investment. Or, they may claim that you are owed a social security payment or tax refund.
The scammers will insist that, to claim the supposed government rebate, you must pay an upfront processing or administration fee. In some cases, they will insist that you pay the fee immediately via a credit card. In other cases, they may ask you to send the money via a wire transfer or other method and then call back on a phone number they provide and quote a reference number to be put in contact with a ‘payment officer’ or ‘supervisor’.
In some versions, the scammers may try to trick you into divulging bank or credit card details, ostensibly so that they can deposit the rebate in your account.
During the call, you may also be asked to provide other sensitive personal and financial information, ostensibly as a means of proving your identity to allow processing of the rebate.
In some cases, the scammers may collect easily accessible information such as your name and address details before they call you. By quoting back this information during the call, they can personalise the scam and make their fake claims seem more legitimate.
Of course, there is no rebate and any payments sent will be pocketed by the scammers and you will never get it back. If you have provided your financial details, the scammers may be able to hijack your bank account or use your credit card numbers to conduct fraudulent transactions. They may use the personal information they have collected to steal your identity.
Be very wary of any phone call in which the caller claims that the government owes you money and you must pay an upfront fee or provide personal information. If you receive such a call, tell the caller that you will contact the relevant government department directly and hang up.
If you are concerned that the call may have been legitimate, find a contact number for the government department and call them to check. However, do not use a contact number supplied by the callers. Calling such a number will just connect you back to the scammers.
While this article discusses phone scams that target people in Australia, very similar government payment scams occur in other countries as well. Moreover, there are many similar types of phone scams that also attempt to trick people into sending their money and personal information to scammers.