Threat and Penalty Scams
What are threat and penalty scams?
Threat and penalty (may also be referred to as extortion) scams are when scammers threaten you with harm (physical or emotional), arrest, legal action or other demands in an attempt to force you into handing over money or your personal information.
Example of scam*
Jane received a call from someone identifying themselves as a representative of the Australian Tax Office. She was told she had a tax debt and if she did not pay it immediately, she would be arrested and go to jail.
Jane was instructed to purchase iTunes gift cards (the caller told her iTunes was an acronym for Income Taxation Underpayment Notarised Electronic system). These would be used to pay her debt.
The caller was very persistent, and the threat sounded legitimate. Jane did not want to be arrested, so she went to her local supermarket as instructed by the representative and purchased $3,000 worth of iTunes gift cards. She provided the card numbers to the representative as instructed.
This was a scam and Jane unfortunately lost her money.
Signs this may be a scam
A caller threatens severe action or fines unless you pay immediately.
If someone claims to be from the police, a government agency or a company and demands payment, do not pay. Hang up. Contact the organisation on a number you source.
An email advises your online history, photos, etc. will be exposed unless you pay.
Do not act on their requests or perform any activities that you may be asked to do and do not pay them. Instead, please notify cyber.gov.au/report.
Bill payment via gift/store cards, iTunes vouchers, wire transfers or bitcoin.
If you're asked to pay an outstanding or overdue bill by unusual methods, do not pay. Government agencies and trusted companies will never ask you to pay this way.
You receive a call advising you'll be deported if you don't follow the caller’s instructions.
Do not act. Government departments will never threaten immediate arrest or deportation via phone or a recorded message.
Financial institutions, government agencies and most organisations will never contact you requesting access to your device, share your passwords, security codes, PIN’s or other personal information via a pop up or a phone call. Never share these with anyone, regardless of the claims being made. Always call organisations back on trusted numbers found on their website or phone directory to validate any of these types of requests.
What you can do if you
come across a scam
Let us know
- Please report scams or suspicious activity immediately to Westpac at 132 032 or +61 2 9155 7700 (if calling from overseas).
- Forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or SMS/text messages to 0497 132 032 then delete the email or message.
- You can also report all suspicious activity to the Australian Cyber Security Centre at cyber.gov.au/report.
Get support and stay in the know
- IDCARE provides free, confidential support and guidance to those impacted by fraud, scams, identity theft or compromise. Call them toll-free on 1800 595 160 or visit idcare.org.
- Keep up to date on scams by subscribing to the government's scam email alerts from scamwatch.gov.au/subscribe.
- Check out our latest scams, for copies of recently reported scams at westpac.com.au/scams.
Things you should know
* Examples are based on one or more real scam reports received by Westpac. For privacy purposes real names have not been used.