Australia’s official tax authority has warned the public of scammers purporting to be tax agents demanding cryptocurrencies like bitcoin for tax payments.
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is alerting citizens of fraudsters impersonating the tax agency to seek payments of faux tax debts from unsuspecting victims in cryptocurrency. The scammers who purport to be ATO officials have been defrauding taxpayers since late 2017, the ATO said in a noticethis week. According to ATO assistant commissioner Kath Anderson, scammers have so far conned over AUD$50,000 in bitcoin alone.
“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.”
The seismic growth of cryptocurrencies’ popularity, particularly in 2017, makes it “inevitable that scammers would target cryptocurrency” she said. “Cryptocurrency operates in a virtual world, and once the scammers receive payment it’s virtually impossible to get it back,” the ATO official added.
As things stand, cryptocurrency is not a recognized method of payment by the taxation office. The ATO lists electronic bill payment system BPAY alongside a credit/debit card as the easiest way to make tax payments alongside a number of alternative options including bank transfers.
While cases of cryptocurrency-related fraud are on the rise, the ATO reminded taxpayers to be wary of “the most frequently reported” scams that include demands of direct deposits into third-party bank accounts, pre-paid Visa gift cards and payments in iTunes gift cards. Australians lost over AUD $2.4 million to these scams specifically in 2017, Ms. Anderson revealed, with roughly $1.2 million siphoned through conning taxpayers into making transfers through the traditional banking system to third-party accounts.
The government’s tax agency joins the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the country’s consumer watchdog, in warning the public of cryptocurrency scams that have sharply increased – a 126% spike in a single week – in Australia last year. The ACCC revealed a total of 1,289 complains related to cryptocurrency scams in 2017 with reported losses totaling AUD $1.2 million.
Over a year ago, Canadian police cited similar reasons while warning the public of fraudulent schemes involving cryptocurrencies wherein fraudsters purporting to be government employees sought income tax payments from taxpayers in bitcoin.