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Scam warning! Fake ‘ATO’ callers threaten arrest over ‘unpaid tax debts’

We have been alerted to an increased incidence of phone calls from scammers claiming to be Australian Tax Office (‘ATO’) representatives. Whilst this is not a new scam, holiday season is a high risk period and people tend to let their guard down at this time of the year.

These ‘ATO officers’ may have your name, address and phone number (often obtained through public records such as those held by ASIC), thus appearing to be somewhat credible; they may claim that you owe the ATO an amount which arose as a result of a tax audit. They may threaten you with an arrest warrant if you don’t make a tax payment right there and then, often by unusual means such as Bitcoin or gift cards and vouchers.

The callers are aggressive, and we urge you to exercise utmost care and contact your Ruddicks adviser if they are referring to tax audits or tax debts that you are unaware of, are threatening you with imprisonment or if you have any doubts whatsoever about the legitimacy of the call.

ATO call – real or fake?

A few things to keep in mind if you receive a call from the ‘ATO’:

  • Real ATO officers will not threaten you with an arrest warrant or imprisonment;
  • In case of real tax audits, the ATO notifies the taxpayer via written correspondence, the tax audit is a process where taxpayer’s input is sought and interactions between taxpayers and the ATO officers are documented; it is not a process where the outcome is decided with no documentation and a payment is demanded over the phone;
  • In most instances if there is an issue with outstanding tax debts or lodgements, the ATO will contact the tax agent first, either in writing or via a phone call. If the ATO contacts us by phone, there are certain security processes that are followed to ensure that information is not released to unauthorised parties;
  • Your Ruddicks adviser can very quickly check the existence of any unpaid tax obligations or outstanding lodgements by logging into the secure ATO’s Tax Agent Portal or calling the legitimate ATO phone line for tax agents. We are happy to check the status of your lodgements and payments and can even provide you with print outs that show these;
  • If you are unsure whether the call is legitimate, ask for their contact number and pass it on to your Ruddicks adviser to check out;
  • Do not give out any sensitive information over the phone, in particular your Tax File Number (TFN) or your bank account or credit card details!

Additional resources:

The ATO provides information about the known phone and email scams that claim to originate from them here:

The Government’s Stay Smart Online service keeps track of current scams (from all sources) and we encourage you to subscribe to the Alert Service to keep you up to date with current security issues:

At this time last year we published a detailed article about a sophisticated scam that targeted businesses and investors, and where we provided a comprehensive set of recommendations in relation to security measures for your business or home. We encourage you to review these here.

Please contact your Ruddicks adviser if you have any questions or require further information.


Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

The content of this newsletter is general in nature. It does not constitute specific advice and readers are encouraged to consult their Ruddicks adviser on any matters of interest. Ruddicks accepts no liability for errors or omissions, or for any loss or damage suffered as a result of any person acting without such advice. This information is current as at 30 November 2018, and was published around that time. Ruddicks particularly accepts no obligation or responsibility for updating this publication for events, including changes to the law, the Australian Taxation Office’s interpretation of the law, or Government announcements arising after that time.

Any advice provided is not ‘financial product advice’ as defined by the Corporations Act. Ruddicks is not licensed to provide financial product advice and taxation is only one of the matters that you need to consider when making a decision on a financial product. You should consider seeking advice from an Australian Financial Services licensee before making any decisions in relation to a financial product. © Ruddicks 2018

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