ATO Scams | Phone Spoofing & iTunes Gift Cards

Back in 2016 the ATO reported that there were a growing number of scammers convincing tax payers that they could use iTunes gift cards as a form of tax debt payment.  Unfortunately, over the last few years this ploy has continued to be extremely successful, with hundreds of thousands of dollars being paid to scammers in the form of iTunes cards.  The reason iTunes cards are used by the scammers as one of their preferred payment methods, is because they are effectively untraceable and can't be cancelled once the number on them has been handed over.  So if someone ever asks you to pay a debt this way, don't!  Instead, you should immediately be suspicious of his or her intentions and consider that the person in question might be about to attempt to scam you.

To further confuse people, the scammers utilise phone technology that was originally set up to allow businesses the ability to project their business number or name through the caller ID system, (no matter what phone they actually called out on).  This is called "Phone Spoofing" or "Caller ID spoofing", and while a legitimate tool, has become a very simple way for scammers to deceive those on the other end of the phone.  Use of phone spoofing to scam someone typically involves the scammer getting some key information from the 'target' and then using this information to program a phone that will allow their co-spammer to appear to be calling from a legitimate business.  E.g. Scammer X calls you and tells you that you're in trouble with the ATO, then asks you who your accounting firm is and who your accountant is.  You tell them "Jane from ABC Accounting".  They tell the person in the cubicle next to them (Spammer Y), who programs their phone to project "ABC Accounting - Jane", as the caller ID and then calls you from it saying that the ATO has asked them to call you.  Unfortunately Jane won't be available so has apparently asked the person in question (Spammer Y) to call you on her behalf, due to the importance of the issue.  Should you ask to speak to your accountant or someone you know, they will have a number of seemingly legitimate reasons as to why this is not possible, whilst assuring you they can help you out.

It is important to remember that these people are well practiced and have likely been doing this for years.  To them it is their job and the better they do it, the more money they make.  They often rely on fear and confusion to get you to do what they want, knowing that once people are confused or frightened, they are more likely to be vulnerable to unreasonable suggestions (like paying a debt with an iTunes card).  So if someone is trying to scare you, confuse you or upset you, hang up!  Then take a couple of deep breaths and have a good think about what is happening and what has been said.  If it seems unlikely or unreasonable in any way, then it is probably not legitimate.  Also remember that you do not have to answer the phone if they call back and that you should not use any contact details that they may have supplied to you**.  If you are in any doubt, make a call to your accountant or the ATO (1800 008 540) and explain to them what has happened.

** Note:  In such circumstances, you should go to your accountant's web site or to the ATO home page (www.ato.gov.au) and get their contact numbers directly from them. Due to the prevalence of phone spoofing, using your contacts on your phone in this situation may be misleading and could direct your call to the wrong place.

Blog Categories