Tax agents are being forced to fight fraudsters who are impersonating tax professionals to con victims into paying fake debts. The Australian Taxation Office advised tax agents this week to inform their clients that scammers may be trying to spoof them.
In a new form of a classic cold-call “tax debt” scheme, fraudsters call victims saying they have an urgent tax debt and then try to elicit information about their tax agent.
They then initiate a three-way call with the victim, looping in a third person who impersonates the victim’s tax agent to help convince the customer to pay a debt that doesn’t exist.
The ATO says this particular scam has led to a number of victims, including one incident where a taxpayer withdrew “thousands” of dollars and deposited their supposed debt into a Bitcoin ATM.
It’s a situation that founder of Bacchus Marsh business The Number Factory, Alexandra Goulden, says is getting “a bit scary”.
Ms Goulden said one of her clients received a call from an unknown number recently accusing them of a tax debt of just a few hundred dollars.
“The client said, ‘I don’t know anything about this, but I’ll give you my tax agent’s phone number,'” Ms Goulden said.
Ms Goulden’s client then called her directly. While they were discussing that the situation was likely a scam, the client received a three-way call request that appeared to include the number of Ms Goulden’s practice. “While I was on the phone with them, someone else was ringing them, also from my phone number,” Ms Goulden said.
“I assume these people were going to pretend to be me… that’s where it gets a bit scary for me, as they could be giving out advice [as me].”
Dandenong accounting firm SSK Accountants told Fairfax Media a number of their clients had received similar calls asking for their tax details, and the firm had been educating the community on the scam through warnings on social media.
In July alone, Australians lost more than $107,000 to tax scams, and $34000 of these losses happened when the victim paid a scammer via Bitcoin for a tax debt that didn’t exist, according to ATO figures.
More than $27,000 was lost in July when victims paid tax scammers via iTunes gift cards.
A spokesperson for the ATO told Fairfax Media, “the offshore nature of scams like this makes law enforcement problematic and recovery of funds virtually impossible. Our best form of defence is to communicate broadly and educate the public”.
Victoria Police have been contacted several times over the past month with reports of the fraudulent phone calls. It issued a warning to Victorians in the southern suburbs in particular earlier this month.
On Tuesday, the NSW Inner West Police Area command also shared a warning via Facebook, saying a victim had claimed they had lost $3000 via a three-way call scam last week.
The tax office encourages all parties affected by these calls, including tax agents who may have been impersonated, to call to them directly and report it.