Don’t gift tax debt scammers with iTunes cards
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Consumer Protection is again warning Western Australians about phone scammers posing as the Australian Tax Office (ATO), as well as highlighting a new trend after a Mandurah woman lost more than $7,000 paying the scammers with iTunes gift cards.
Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard says fraudsters, usually overseas, make vulnerable members of our community anxious and steal their money.
“We realise a lot of people will be surprised to hear that a scam victim thinks you can pay the ATO with iTunes gift cards but I’d ask you to just take a step back and put yourself in the shoes of a person who is perhaps not tech savvy, lacks knowledge of modern payment methods and whose gut reaction is to comply with requests from anyone in a position of authority.
“Rather than blame victims of these scams what we can do instead is try to educate people. Those targeted may be elderly, living in isolation, intellectually disabled, suffering from mental health issues, or migrants who speak English as a second language and are not overly familiar with how the ATO operates.”
On 6 May 2016, a 52-year-old from Golden Bay reported to Consumer Protection that she had bought more than $7,000 worth of iTunes cards from a Woolworths store ($3,000 on credit card and the rest with cash) to pay off a tax debt and avoid arrest. It started after she responded in panic to an answerphone message on her landline that she thought was from the ATO. A subsequent mobile phone call lasted four hours and the scammer claimed the woman was being monitored, that her bank accounts would be seized and she would be taken into custody if she didn’t cooperate.
Mr Hillyard says anyone truly from the ATO would not behave in this manner.
“If you receive an urgent, aggressive call threatening arrest or legal action over a tax debt, do not be afraid, it is not really the ATO. Scammers may call multiple times or leave voicemail or answerphone messages. Our advice if you get a call like this is to:
- Put the phone down. If you speak with scammers you enable them to obtain information from you to help them target you further.
- Do not respond to numbers supplied in an automated call.
- Delete any messages left on an answerphone or voicemail service.
- Speak to someone you trust about the scam call to put your mind at ease.
If you are worried you about a suspicious phone call regarding tax, call the ATO on 1800 008 540. Alternatively call WA ScamNet at Consumer Protection on 1300 30 40 54. Either of our agencies will confirm it is a scam and that you are not in any trouble.”
The ATO does NOT accept payment in the form of:
- iTunes cards;
- pre-paid debit cards, such as ones from Australia Post, supermarkets or department stores;
- electronic payment vouchers including Ukash; or
- wire transfer like Western Union, Moneygram or Alipay.
Ways to pay the ATO can be found on their website: https://www.ato.gov.au/individuals/payments-to-ato/how-to-pay
The Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection says it’s hard to stop scammers impersonating government officials because they re-route phone lines using the internet, making it hard to trace exactly where they are.
“What we can do to fight back is talk about government impersonation scams with elderly relatives, neighbours and other people in our community who could be at risk. If you work somewhere that sells iTunes gift cards and someone tries to buy thousands of dollars-worth in one transaction perhaps you could gently warn them about scams or even offer to call us at Consumer Protection. You can also spread the word via social media by sharing Consumer Protection WA’s Facebook posts and tweets.”
The ATO has produced an audio advisory that can be used by radio stations to warn listeners about tax debt scams.
Media contact (Consumer Protection)
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