The dodgy call you shouldn’t return
THOUSANDS of Australians have received a voicemail message that's likely to have sent shivers down their spine.
The robotic-sounding voice warns the recipient that they are the subject of a lawsuit and should return the call immediately.
If they don't, a warrant will be issued for their arrest, the message threatens.
This is the latest iteration of a well-worn scam which demands payment of a tax debt - and it has fleeced unsuspecting and terrified victims out of thousands of dollars each.
Authorities say elderly people are especially prone to believe the claim and are often threatened by fraudsters when they phone the number back.
"The reason behind this call is that there is a lawsuit cases getting filed under your name," the computer-generated message begins.
"The moment you get this message I want you to get back to me on my department division number. Now, if we don't hear from you, we have to issue arrest warrant under your name and get you arrested so get back to me as soon as possible. Thank you."
In a call received by this reporter on Wednesday, the return telephone number was 08 6102 5755. The number has been reported and now appears to have been discarded by the scammers.
The Australian Taxation Office has received 28,000 reports about attempted scams since July 1, with the lawsuit-related telephone call among them.
The ATO's Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson said fraudsters are growing increasingly sophisticated and hope to exploit vulnerable people, often using aggressive tactics to swindle people out of their money or personal information.
The phone numbers used to call victims are always Australian-based and the latest round have carried West Australian and Victorian area codes.
However, cyber crime police have said in the past that the scammers are unlikely to be calling from Australia, but using a call forward service instead.
Some fraudsters will even offer to contact a victim's accountant to verify that they owe money and then dial in an accomplice who impersonates the tax agent.
Ms Anderson said the peak season for scammers was about to begin, with the November 21 deadline for 2017-18 income tax payments fast approaching.
"Be wary if someone contacts you demanding payment of a tax debt you didn't know you owed," Ms Anderson said.
Payments through Bitcoin ATMs have now overtaken iTunes vouchers as the most common method of scam payments reported to the ATO.
"Our advice is simple - the ATO will never ask you to make a payment into an ATM or via gift or prepaid cards such as iTunes and Visa cards, or direct credit to be paid to a personal bank account," Ms Anderson said.
The ATO never demands the immediate payment of debts in any circumstances, she said, and despite the taxman's hard-nosed reputation, rudeness and aggression are not standard tacts.
"That's just not how we do business," she said.
"If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of a call, hang up and call us on 1800 008 540."
The ATO is also worried about the number of people who fall victim to non-financial scams and hand over valuable personal information to criminals.
Since July 1, some 6000 Australians have given away sensitive details including tax file numbers, bank account details and dates of birth.
"Your identifying information can be used by scammers to break into your life if they are compromised," Ms 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 so it's recommended that you hang up and call your agent direct on a number you have sourced independently."