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It’s OK to hang up

11:31am July 07 2021

In 2020, the ATO received 96,220 scam reports, many of which occur via phone. (Getty)

People can get a little bit nervous when it comes to the Australian Tax Office. 

Did I fill in my tax return correctly? Am I claiming the right expenses? Did I declare all my income? How much do I owe? 

But it is this natural nervousness that scammers prey upon to use against us.

In 2020, the ATO received 96,220 scam reports of which 457 lost nearly $2.4 million. That’s an average of a little more than $5000 each. In total, Australians lost a record $851m to scams last year – a record amount – with investment scams topping the list. 

However, if you know how scammers operate, you are less likely to be caught. And with tax on many people’s minds following the end of financial year, it’s worth brushing up on the latest tricks and tactics.

A good place to start is asking yourself this question – is the tax office really calling me and would they behave in this way?

One of our customers, Jane, (not their real name) received a call from someone identifying themselves as a representative of the ATO, advising that she had a tax debt and if she did not pay it immediately she would be arrested and go to jail.

The very persistent and legitimate-sounding caller instructed her to purchase iTunes gift cards (the caller told her iTunes was an acronym for Income Taxation Underpayment Notarised Electronic system) to pay the debt, which she ultimately did. 

Sadly, this was a scam and unfortunately Jane lost the $3000 spent on the gift cards.  

This is typical of scammers impersonating the ATO – being that they generally contact you by phone. However, they may also contact you via text messages or emails, sounding or appearing just as genuine at first. 

Other things to look out for include: 

– Someone saying your tax file number (TFN) has either been suspended or compromised and you must pay a fine or transfer money to a holding account to release it

– An email or text message asking for personal information or providing a link to the ATO or MyGov websites to enter your personal information such as driver’s licence, Medicare card and bank account details

– A caller asks you to pay in an unusual way, such as the iTunes example, but also Google Play cards, steam cards, Bitcoin, cardless cash or wire transfer

– A request to pay a fee or details for refunds or Jobkeeper payments

– Unsolicited pre-recorded messages

– Someone else impersonating the police or tax agent, who joins the call or calls you directly

So, what to do? 

If you think you are being scammed, HANG UP immediately. Do not click on links in text messages or in emails. Delete any emails or text messages that you think are scams.

If you are unsure if you are being scammed, ask for their name, contact details and any reference details and then hang up. Call the ATO and check if they are legitimate. If they cannot find the person, it was probably a scam.

Or if the person is unwilling to give you their details and allow you to call back on a number you obtain, it is also probably a scam. 


If they say a police officer will call you, get their name, identification and police station. Call the police station (not a number they give you) and ask for that officer. 

If the caller is threatening, or wanting you to stay on the call, HANG UP. 

This is probably a scam too.

It’s important to remember that Australian government agencies will never threaten you with immediate arrest, demand immediate payment through unusual means over the phone, or send you links to log in or update details for your government account (MyGov, Service Australia). If in doubt, contact your tax agent or the ATO via an independently sourced number.

And never share your passwords or security codes with anyone.

But if you think you have been scammed, lost money or given out your personal details, report the scam to the ATO, your bank, IDCARE or other relevant organisations. 

Also, talk about your experience. By reporting and talking about scams, the authorities have a better chance of catching the scammers. 

If more people know about scams, fewer are likely to fall for them. 

And never forget – it is OK to hang up.

Westpac customers can access security features via the Westpac app or Online Banking to stay safer at tax time - just take these easy steps.

The Australian Tax office can be contacted on 1800 008 540, or go to their website page or email them at For Westpac, please report scams or suspicious activity immediately at 132 032 or +61 2 9155 7700 (if calling from overseas) and visit our security page for more information on scams. IDCARE can be reached toll-free on 1800 595 160 or visit their website, They provide free, confidential support and guidance to people who have been targeted by fraud, scams, identity theft or compromise. And keep up to date on scams by subscribing to the governments scam email alerts.

This information is general in nature and has been prepared without taking your objectives, needs and overall financial situation into account. For this reason, you should consider the appropriateness or the information to your own circumstances and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

The taxation position described is a general statement and should only be used as a guide.  It does not constitute tax advice and is based on current tax laws and their interpretation.  


Rob has helped thousands of people and organisations improve their financial confidence through delivering Davidson Institute short courses and webinars. His career started almost 40 years ago working with a mid-tier accounting firm. From there he moved into banking and has worked with people and organisations. As a CPA grounded in the realities of finance, he brings a unique insight and understanding to the numbers behind our lives.

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