The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has warned its citizens about tax scammers demanding payment through bitcoin ATMs.
In its warning, ATO said that it has fielded reports of over 28,000 attempted scams since July of this year and estimated that Australians have paid almost $1 million to scammers. It added that payments through Bitcoin ATMs have now overtaken iTunes vouchers as the most common method of scam payment reported to the tax authority.
Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson said scammers are growing increasingly sophisticated and hope to exploit vulnerable people, often using aggressive tactics to swindle people out of their money or personal information.
“November is a prime time for scammers as they know lots of people have tax bills to pay,” Anderson said. “Be wary if someone contacts you demanding payment of a tax debt you didn’t know you owed. Our advice is simple – the ATO will never ask you to make a payment into an ATM or via gift or pre-paid cards such as iTunes and Visa cards, or direct credit to be paid to a personal bank account. If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of a call, hang up and call us.”
Last month, scammers managed to scam more than $35,000 out of four Australian immigrants by telling them they needed to pay a tax debt. The victims were told that if they failed to pay an alleged tax debt then they would be arrested. In some cases they were told that the scammer had spoken to the individual’s accountant or to the Australian Federal Police in order to confirm the debt.
Anderson said ATO officials would never demand immediate payment of a debt, use aggressive or rude behaviour, or threaten taxpayers with arrest.
“That’s just not how we do business,” Anderson said. “We understand that it can sometimes be difficult to pay tax bills on time, so we urge anyone who is worried about paying to contact us as soon as possible as there are a range of ways we can help.”
Anderson also said that she is concerned about the number of taxpayers sharing their personal information with scammers, adding that the tax authority have recorded nearly 6,000 instances of taxpayers handing their sensitive data to scammers since July.
“Your identifying information like tax file numbers, bank account numbers or your date of birth are the keys to your identity, and can be used by scammers to break into your life if they are compromised,” Anderson said. “If you’ve received an unsolicited email or text, or if you have any doubts about whether any contact is legitimately from the ATO, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to check. Scammers have been known to impersonate tax agents too it’s recommended that you hang up and call your agent direct on a number you have sourced independently.”
Earlier this year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission published its annual Scamwatch report, revealing that Australians had lost an estimated $2 million in scams involving cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (ICO). About $1.2 million was lost in bitcoin scams alone.