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Identifying and avoiding ATO impersonation scams

Are you confident in your ability to spot a scam? You may need to think again, as scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their techniques and using the latest technologies to make their schemes look and sound legitimate.  

In 2018, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's targeting Scams 2018 Report showed there was an 18% increase in reported scams since 2017. Interestingly, one of the most common scams reported was the ATO impersonation scam, wherein the scammer claims to be from the Australian Tax Office and will threaten arrest over an alleged outstanding tax debt. 

Assistant Commissioner Gavin Siebert has confirmed that scammers have adopted 'Robocall' technology to target Australian taxpayers across the country. “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”.

While the ATO does regularly contact taxpayers by phone, email and SMS, there are some tell-tale signs that the communication you have received is not from the ATO. 

The ATO will never:

  • Send you an email or SMS asking you to click on a link to provide log in details, personal details or financial information
  • Send you an email or SMS asking you to download a file or open an attachment
  • Conference call in a third party such as tax agents or law enforcement
  • Prevent you from discussing your tax affairs with your accountant or trusted advisor
  • Use aggressive or rude behaviour
  • Threaten you with arrest, jail, or deportation
  • Ask you to pay your tax debt into a bank account not held by the Reserve Bank of Australia
  • Request payment of a debt via iTunes or Google Play cards, other vouchers, pre-paid Visa cards, cryptocurrency or direct credit to a personal bank account; or 
  • Request a fee to release a refund owed to you

What to do in this situation 

If you have received communication from the ATO that you believe is not genuine, do not engage with the scammers and be sure to let the ATO know. 

Phone scams

  • If you or someone you know has paid or provided sensitive personal identifying information to a scammer, call the ATO on 1800 008 540 to report.
  • If you receive a scam phone call or text message, and have not paid or provided sensitive personal identifying information to the scammer, you can report the scam via the online form Report a scam

Email and text message scams

If you receive a suspicious email or text message (SMS) claiming to be from the ATO:

Do not click on a link, open an attachment or download a file.

Verifying ATO contact

If you are ever unsure whether an ATO interaction is genuine, do not reply. You should phone the ATO on 1800 008 540. 

Our tips to protect yourself from scammers 

  • Familiarise yourself with the tell-tale signs of a scam that are discussed above 
  • Know your tax affairs, you can stay updated in your mygov portal
  • Guard your personal and financial information, only give this information to people you trust
  • Be careful when clicking on links, downloading files or opening attachments
  • Know the legitimate ways to make payments with the ATO. To check that a payment method is legitimate, you can visit ato.gov.au/howtopay
  • Talk to your family and friends about scams – if you or someone you know has fallen victim to a tax-related scam, call the ATO as soon as you can.
  • If you are unsure about whether a call, text message or email is genuine, don’t reply. Call the ATO on 1800 008 540 to verify.

If you would like more information about identifying ATO impersonation scams, or believe you may have paid or provided sensitive personal identifying information to a scammer, please do not hesitate to contact this office on 02 4044 1245.

14 Aug 2019

David Woods

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