Last year, some 107,000 ATO impersonation scam calls were reported to the authorities. The real number is likely to be much higher, given that most of these type of calls go unreported. Scammers are increasingly using technological advances to appear more legitimate and nab unsuspecting victims.
One technique commonly used is “spoofing”, where the scammers use software to mislead the caller line identification (caller ID) technology on most mobile phones and modern fixed line phones. Rather than transmitting the actual, typically overseas, phone number the call is coming from, the software “overstamps” it with another phone number. Commonly, the numbers used are widely publicised, such as the legitimate numbers used by the ATO.
However, receiving scam calls purportedly from the ATO and other official departments may soon be a thing of the past, with the recent completion of a successful trial of software to block specific calls.
Tax refund and tax debt scams are particularly prevalent towards the end of October when most individual tax returns are due, but some could run year-round. In fact, just recently, the ATO has alerted the community to an SMS scam which claims that recipients are due to receive a tax refund and asks them to click on a legitimate-looking link. The ATO notes that it will never send an email or SMS asking people to access online services via a hyperlink.
Due to the prevalence of these scams and the large amount of money lost by individuals, Australian telcos, the ATO and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) recently collaborated on a three-month trial of technology to block scam calls appearing to originate from legitimate ATO phone numbers. Under the Scam Technology Project, participating telcos used software to identify calls which had been “overstamped” with specified ATO phone numbers and blocked them.
According to the government, the trial has been “highly successful” in blocking spoof calls from specified ATO numbers. While this blocking technology will not stop scammers randomly ringing Australians pretending to be from the ATO, it will stop specific ATO numbers appearing in the caller ID on the recipient’s phone, making the scam seem less convincing.
If you receive a call from someone who says they are from a government department, such as the ATO, but you’re not sure whether the call is legitimate, the best course of action is to hang up and phone back on a widely publicised number from an official website or source.
The recent blocking trial is not the only initiative under the project. The industry peak body for the telecommunications sector, Communications Alliance, is also developing an industry code called Reducing Scam Calls, which will mandate steps telcos must take to identify, trace and block scam calls. In addition, the Alliance will create an information-sharing framework for telcos to work with regulators against phone scams.
If you would like to know more please contact one of our accountants on 07 4639 1099 or come in and see us at 4 Bowen Street Toowoomba.