Australian Taxation Office Warns Of Bitcoin Tax Scammers

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has issued a warning against scammers impersonating the agency and demanding bitcoin as a form of payment for fake tax debts.

In a statement, ATO assistant commissioner Kath Anderson said that recent reports to the ATO had identified fraudsters pioneering the new payment method when defrauding taxpayers in late 2017. She revealed that over AU$50,000 ($39,400 USD) was paid via bitcoin to scammers last year claiming fake ATO tax debts.

“Cryptocurrency operates in a virtual world, and once the scammers receive payment, it’s virtually impossible to get it back,” Anderson said. “Scammers are constantly adapting their methods to maximize their chances of picking your pocket. Unfortunately, it was inevitable that scammers would target cryptocurrency given its current popularity and anonymity.”

In 2017, the ATO received more than 80,000 reports of scams, with taxpayers reporting almost AU$2.4 million ($1.8M USD) lost to scammers claiming to be from the ATO.

While the ATO is concerned about scammers moving to adopt cryptocurrencies, the agency said residents should remain vigilant for other versions of the fake tax debt scam. Taxpayers should be cautious about paying “direct deposits into third-party bank accounts, demanding payment via iTunes cards or with a pre-paid Visa gift cards.”

The ATO was also concerned about taxpayers being tricked into sharing personal information such as their Tax File Number with scammers. Residents who are unsure about a purported tax call can contact the agency, but any calls threatening police or legal action would not be from the ATO.

“If you receive a phone call out of the blue, threatening police or legal action if you don’t pay a debt, or the person calling you is rude and aggressive, hang up, it won’t be the ATO,” Anderson said. “Any call-back number provided should be checked via an independent internet search to ensure you are calling the ATO.”

The warning adds to a growing chorus of alarming messages regarding crypo-related scams. Last month, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the consumer watchdog of the country, revealed that it received over 1,200 complaints about cryptocurrency scams in 2017, with reported losses totaling AU$1,218,206 ($960,000 USD).

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