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Australia plagued by updated tax scam: Fake tax collectors asking for cryptocurrency

Scammers are updating their modus operandi to fit new age technology.

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has issued a release warning citizens of the same tax scam that has been around for years—but this time fraudsters are asking for cryptocurrencies as payment.

Tax scammers usually operate by calling or emailing unsuspecting people and impersonating tax authorities, falsely accusing victims of having some pending tax debt and threatening to have them arrested if they do not pay up immediately. Their usual payment method of choice is by prepaid debit or gift cards or wire transfer, but the Australian government says these scammers have now caught on and demand cryptocurrency payments, which would enable them to instantly receive payments while hiding behind online wallet addresses.

According to the ATO, the updated tax scam started floating about late last year, with at least $50,000 worth of BTC being lost to the scam, as far as they know.

“We became aware of scammers seeking payment in Bitcoin last year. So far we have seen over $50,000 paid in Bitcoin to scammers claiming fake ATO tax debts,” Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson said.

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

Apart from the outright payment made by the rattled victim, the scammers also gather personal information and use it for identity fraud, filing erroneous tax returns and having the refunds deposited to the taxpayer’s real bank account. They then call the taxpayer back demanding that they hand over the erroneous refund, increasing their loot even more. In the US, the IRS says millions of dollars have been lost to tax scams, with thousands of people falling victim to thieves. The worst part about this is that these scammers usually target senior citizens.

So far, in Australia, such scams by ATO impersonators have also been quite lucrative, raking in over $2.4 million in 2017, according to Anderson. She urges citizens not to entertain rude and threatening callers or messages from anyone claiming to be from the ATO, and never to make deposits and transfers to any third party bank accounts. Apart from this, she has a very important advice to the public when it comes to personal information: “Remember, your personal information is like the keys to your identity – guard it carefully.”

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