ATO collecting debt over the phone – is it a scam?

The ATO uses a number of tools to collect outstanding debts, including by making phone calls. However, ATO staff are trained to be courteous to taxpayers, and the phone calls are generally only used to get an idea of when you expect to pay your debt.

If you receive a call from someone who claims to be from the ATO, you should take steps to protect yourself, and ensure that you are actually speaking to the ATO. There have been a number of reports of scammers who impersonate ATO employees to try to collect your personal information or demand payment from you.

What to do if the ATO calls you

When someone who says they are an ATO employee calls, you should ask them for their name, title and the team they are calling from. You should then say that you will call them back via the general ATO phone number. Don’t call the number given to you by the caller – it could be one that is similar to an ATO number, but operated by a scammer.

Once you can call back, you can confirm whether the person is really from the ATO. It is possible that you won’t be able to speak to the exact person who called you, but you should at least be able to speak to someone from the team.

If they won’t give you their details

If the caller won’t give you their name or team details, then simply hang up. Do not give any personal information to a person who has called you.

Scammers will ask for personal information such as:

  • tax file numbers
  • names
  • addresses
  • dates of birth
  • myGov username and password
  • bank account and credit card details
  • drivers licence, Medicare and passport details

This information can be used by the scammers to commit identity fraud.

The ATO do not threaten arrest over the phone

Do not agree to pay them any money over the phone. We have had reports from clients who have been told that the police will be sent to their house if payment is not made immediately, and that they must go to the local post office to make a payment directly to the ATO. This is a very upsetting threat, and it is not true – the ATO would not threaten arrest over the phone in this way.

When to become suspicious

If the phone call has any of the following characteristics, then you should suspect a scam:

  • the caller uses an aggressive tone
  • the caller asks you to go directly to Western Union to make payment
  • the caller asks you to buy gift cards (such as iTunes cards) and make payment by reading out the barcodes to them over the phone
  • the caller may be pushy to book an appointment, and advise that there are ATO representatives in your neighbourhood now
  • you are asked questions about your financial situation and other personal information that could be used to steal your identity
  • you are advised that there is a warrant for your arrest
  • you are asked to make a payment, but have never received anything in writing about this
  • you are advised that you have a tax refund that you didn’t expect, and you’re asked to pay money to someone else first in order to collect your refund
  • you are told that you’ve been selected for a business grant, and that you must call back on a specific number to arrange collecting the grant

These are just some examples of the scams that we are aware of, and the ways in which scammers try to trick people into providing information or paying amounts that they don’t have to pay.

How to report a suspected scam

Suspected fraud should be reported to the ATO on 13 28 61, and you should let them know if you have given any personal information to the suspected scammer.

If the ATO confirm that the caller was not from the ATO, and you have given your bank details or credit card details to the caller, then you should also contact your bank to discuss freezing your accounts.

If you owe a debt to the ATO and need to negotiate payment, or you dispute the debt, call me on 0421 120 379 or contact me for a chat about how I can help.