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Who's really calling? Not the ATO or ACIC


Last updated October 2020

WA ScamNet has received reports from people who have been called by scammers pretending to work for government agencies with threats of arrest or legal proceedings.  

ATO scams

Scammers are contacting Western Australians claiming they are an official from the Australian Tax Office (ATO) and that there is an arrest warrant in their name.

The scammers have stolen $188,000 from 15 Western Australians so far in 2020 – almost double the losses reported to WA ScamNet in 2019.

Hear the message claiming there is an arrest warrant in your name (external link). 

Hear what happened when a 6PR producer played along (external link). 

How the scam works

  • Victims receive phone calls for Australian phone numbers that play a recorded message claiming to be from the from a Government agency, such as the ATO, Department of Home Affairs or Services Australia, and there is a warrant for your arrest.
  • The call prompts the receiver to ‘press 1’ which takes them through to a person pretending to work for these agencies who threatens them with arrest because either their Tax File Number (TFN) has been linked to fraudulent activity, or they have an outstanding tax debt that needs to be paid immediately.
  • In an attempt to legitimise the scam, the caller will ask the location of the victim’s nearest police station, before advising that a call will come through from the station shortly.
  • The scammers spoof (or copy) the number of the police station, so the victim is more likely to believe what they’re being told when they see the station’s number on their caller display.
  • After speaking with the ‘police station’, the victim is put back to the initial person they were dealing with and urged to keep the matter private.
  • They are told to go to their bank and withdraw money that will either be safeguarded from the fraudulent activity or is required to pay off their outstanding debt.
  • Once funds are withdrawn, they are instructed to purchase gift cards and provide the codes on the back to the caller. The victim is usually kept on the phone while they are driving to their bank and retailers to purchase the gift cards.
  • On a few occasions the victim has been asked to convert their funds into crypto-currency and send that via an online wallet.
  • Fortunately, some consumers realised it was a scam after directly calling their local police station and confirming that no one at the station had called them about being arrested over their TFN being linked to fraudulent activity.

ACIC scam

A Western Australian woman received a voicemail message from a person claiming to work for the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC). The caller addressed the woman by her surname and said the ACIC had started proceedings against her. The caller requested the woman call back using a telephone number that started with 02.

You may think a call has originated from Australia because it starts with 02 but this is not the case. Scammers sometimes offer Australian telephone numbers in an attempt to add credibility to their claims. They do so by using technology known as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to redirect the call back to them overseas.

Agencies like the ACIC will never contact people by phone to deliver information about court proceedings. The ACIC has issued a warning about phone scams on its website.

How to protect yourself

  • Confirm the caller’s name, title and why they are calling.
  • Hang up and call the ATO on 1800 008 540 or ACIC on (08) 9265 6789 to verify the contact.
  • Never send money or give financial/personal details to someone you don’t know or trust.
  • If you have provided your financial information, contact your financial provider immediately.
  • Be aware that government agencies will never threaten arrest, leave pre-recorded messages, nor demand payment through unusual means like gift cards or crypto-currency
  • Do not call back numbers left in voicemails
  • Search for legitimate number of agency and call directly to verify the call
  • If in doubt – contact WA ScamNet on 1300 30 40 54, or consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au