Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Talking on an iPhone

Is the tax office calling me or is it a scam?

It doesn’t matter what time of the year you’re in, but it makes even more sense during tax time to get an automated call attempting to con you.

Scammers are everywhere, and always looking for ways to relieve you of any money you have, but lately, they’re getting a little more savvy.

Not only are they using technology, but they’re clued into the times of the year where you’re less likely to pay attention to something being a little off, and are hoping to slip one by you.

Like during tax time, because it’s highly possible that you’ve filed your taxes, and so if you were to receive a call from someone about your taxes, you might not realise that it’s fake.

Tax scams are common throughout the year, and are typically based in email or SMS. Wording of tax scams is often easy to pick up on, and in years past, scammers have tried using tactics such as forcing you to open a file in order to infect your computer, or click on a link to trick you that way.

Recently, however, scammers have turned to tricking people using phone calls, sending a message loud and clear with a robotic voice that sounds human enough, and yet warns of a potential problem in a tax filing. Worse, the calls are coming from Australia’s capital, Canberra, which helps make the scam sound even more legit, because of the government connection.

But these calls are just a scam, and the best way to understand the scam is to listen to a message and work out how to spot the tax scam.

The tax call scam in all its glorious detail

The tax call scam can come through to your phone when you pick it up, or go straight to your message box if you have one. Whichever you have, it is so far always automated and always coming from a robotic voice.

The language of the message comes across as informative yet slightly threatening, suggesting a problem with a tax filing and a subsequent warrant for your arrest.

However it is just a scam, and the nefarious individuals out for your money are hoping you’ll fall for it and miss their dodgy language.

An example of the tax scam call provides a robotic female voice speaking without human intonation, but still sounding realistic enough, and saying the following:

We regretted to inform you that we identified incorrect tax filing. We regretted to inform you that your account has marked lean for tax avoidation. Paperwork to send to registered address has also returned back unsigned and undelivered. For this the petition needs to get filed, including your warrant for arrest now before the case is sent for execution and to receive legal notification. For more information, press one, or give us a call back on same number as this issue is very time sensitive.

That sounds real enough to most, so what are the dead giveaways that this tax scam call is fake?

Pay attention to the language

For many scammers, English is not their first language, and so you can usually expect some poor spelling or grammatical errors in the script.

That’s something worth remembering: while the above reading might come across as someone who has said it out loud, a robot voice is just reading a script. If the person writing the script doesn’t understand the nuances of the English language, you can usually expect those flaws to come out.

In the above script, there’s the word “avoidation”, which isn’t actually a word. “Tax avoidance” is a word, but “tax avoidation” is not, and it’s something the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) would clearly know.

There are other aspects to the robotic call, such as lines like “we regretted to inform you” and “for this the petition needs to get filed”, as these aren’t good examples of English.

Is there really a warrant for my arrest?

One of the key points scammers are trying to address with the tax scam call is the threat of prison time.

It’s true that not paying your taxes can have severe consequences, but the ATO has previously said it wouldn’t threaten a tax payer with arrest.

Back in 2015, Geoff Leeper, Second Commissioner for the Tax Office said “we make thousands of outbound calls to taxpayers a week, but there are some key differences to a legitimate call from the ATO and a call from a potential scammer”.

“We would never cold call you about a debt; we would never threaten jail or arrest, and our staff certainly wouldn’t behave in an aggressive manner,” he said.

Since then, the ATO has included examples of similar calls on its Scam Alerts page, as this scam just doesn’t seem to go away.

What should you do if you get a tax scam call?

If you think you’ve received a tax scam call, hang up. If the scammers have inadvertently left a tax scam message on your voicemail, delete the message and move on.

Alternatively, if you’re concerned at all that the tax scam message may be legit, don’t call back the number that called you. Instead, call up the ATO on a number found at its website.

Returning a tax scammer’s number will likely lead you down a path where the scammer will attempt to convince you of their legitimacy, which could confuse you. Instead, assume any robotic call informing you of a tax debt is a lie, and move on.

If you’re genuinely concerned, call the ATO’s real number and find out for yourself. They’ll more than likely tell you the call you heard was a scam, and that you have nothing to worry about.

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