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Special alert – sophisticated scam using cloned ATO phone numbers

Special Alert

Sophisticated scam using cloned ATO phone numbers

Scammers are using a new sophisticated tactic to try to convince people they have outstanding tax debts.

While scammers purporting to be from the Australian Tax Office (ATO) are not new, some are now using technology to make it look like the calls originate from a legitimate ATO phone number.

According to the ATO, “This number may appear on caller ID, be left on voice mail messages for call backs, or directed by *69 for call back functionality. Scammers do this to make the calls seem more valid when they call people a second time. Most frequently, the number appearing is 6216 1111, but other numbers have been used as well.”

During the phone calls, scammers threaten people with arrest if they do not pay their debt immediately.

The ATO reminds people that any call from the ATO will not:

  • threaten you with arrest
  • demand immediate payment, particularly through unusual means such as bitcoin, pre-paid credit cards or gift cards
  • refuse to allow you to speak with a trusted advisor or your regular tax agent
  • or present a phone number on caller ID

The ATO advise to never call a scammer back on the number they provide. If you are in any doubt about an ATO call, hang up and phone the ATO on 1800 008 540 to check if the call was legitimate.

Scams on the increase

According to an Australian Financial Review (AFR) article, scam attempts involving the ATO and others are on the increase. This financial year alone, there have been 28,000 reported scams made to the ATO, totalling around $1million. However, the number of attempts and money involved is likely to be higher as many people don’t realise they are victims of fraud.

What’s more, detecting and then prosecuting the scammers involved is very difficult.

“The offshore nature of scams like this makes law enforcement problematic and recovery of funds virtually impossible,” a tax office assistant commissioner, Kath Anderson, said in the article.

While sophisticated, the scams are also relatively easy to set-up. In the recent case of the fake incoming phone number scam, while phone number spoofing as it is called used to required specialist software, today the means can be legally purchased on web app stores. “Spoofing is very easy to do,” said David Lacey, a professor of cybersecurity at the University of the Sunshine Coast, in the AFR article. “Fixing it appears to be almost impossible. It’s a low-value, high-volume business.”

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