Scammers pose as local man’s tax agent

Liz Bell

A STRATFORD man who was almost scammed out of $4500 by fast-talking fraudsters impersonating his Sale tax agent is warning others to be wary of calls made from seemingly legitimate phone numbers about tax debts.

The man said he was initially suspicious when he received a call on Easter Monday from a man claiming to be from the Australian Taxation Office, telling him he had been under investigation for “wilful tax evasion”, and demanding he repay a $4500 tax liability, or “risk jail”.

Bewildered and concerned that his trusted tax agent may have made a mistake with his tax assessments, he told the caller to take up the matter with the agency, and passed on his accountant’s name.

Shortly after, he received a call from a man he believed to be his tax accountant, confirming that a mistake had been made in his assessments, and that the accountancy firm would reimburse him if he repaid the debt immediately.

The Stratford man told the Gippsland Times he had no reason to doubt the legitimacy of the call, as the scammer even sounded like his tax accountant and was calling from his accountant’s Sale phone number.

But when he told his “accountant” he would not be able to access that kind of money in a hurry, the line deteriorated and cut out before the conversation went any further.

As it was Easter Monday, calls back to his tax agent and the ATO went unanswered, and as the man was busy at work in Melbourne, he was unable to pursue the matter further.

As soon as business resumed on Tuesday, both the ATO and his Sale tax agent were able to confirm the calls had not come from them.

The ATO has confirmed that it had received hundreds of reports in April of scammers pretending to be from the ATO and threatening people with arrest if a tax debt was not paid immediately.

Alarmingly, scammers were using “phone spoofing” technology to make it look like the calls originate from a legitimate ATO phone number.

In a new twist, these scammers are now impersonating the victim’s registered tax agent or someone from the agent’s practice by coercing the victim into revealing their agent’s name.

According to the ATO, some victims have fallen prey to the scam, including one who withdrew thousands of dollars in cash and deposited it into a Bitcoin ATM; fearing police had a warrant out for his arrest after the fraudulent phone conversation.

An ATO spokesman said while these scam calls may appear to be from the ATO with a spoofed caller ID, it is important to remember that a legitimate caller from the ATO would never threaten people with arrest; demand immediate payment, particularly through unusual means such as bitcoin, pre-paid credit cards or gift cards; or present a phone number on caller ID.

Clients can also hang up the call and contact their tax agent directly to confirm the status of their tax affairs, however this option wasn’t available to the Stratford man because it was a public holiday.

The ATO advises never to call a scammer back on the number they provide.

Anyone in doubt about an ATO call should hang up and phone the ATO on 1800 008 540 to check if the call was legitimate or report a scam.

Earlier this year, the ATO issued similar warnings over a myGov scam, after fraudulent emails promising taxpayers a tax refund were issued en masse, in an attempt to steal personal and financial information.

Scams were amongst the core issues affecting taxpayers and small business clients in 2018, with the ACCC revealing that more than $2.3 million in scams were reported last year.