Govt acts to expose ATO scam callers

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Govt acts to expose ATO scam callers

No longer able to spoof tax office numbers.

The Government claims to have “comprehensively disrupted” scammers pretending to be from the Australian Taxation Office through a technology trial run in collaboration with telcos.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the ATO received over 107,000 reports from the community of impersonation scams in 2019 alone.

The scam calls appeared to come from legitimate - and widely publicised - phone numbers normally used by Australians wanting to call the tax office.

The scammers used software “to mislead the caller line identification CLI technology … of most mobile phones and modern fixed line phones,” the Government said.

"Rather than transmitting the actual phone number the call is coming from - frequently an overseas number - instead they ‘overstamp’ it with another phone number."

At the Government’s request, Australia’s telcos joined together with the ATO and Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) on a three-month trial of technology to block these scam calls appearing to originate from legitimate ATO phone numbers,” Fletcher said.

“Our Government was determined to act to stop these scammers preying on Australians and using a spoofed ATO number as part of their scam.”

The exact technology used in the trial was not disclosed, but in general terms, Fletcher said that “the participating telcos used software to identify calls which had been overstamped with the specified ATO phone numbers - and blocked them.”

Though he said the trial “has been highly successful”, Fletcher cautioned that it would not stop scammers from “randomly ringing Australians pretending to be from the ATO.”

“[But] it will stop specific ATO numbers appearing in the CLI display on the recipient’s phone, thus making the scam seem much less convincing,” Fletcher said.

The Government urged Australians that received a suspicious call to “hang up and ring the organisation directly by finding them through a trusted source, such as a past bill or online search.”

“If you are not sure that an ATO interaction is genuine, don’t reply to it and phone 1800 008 540,” it said.

The action falls under the Government’s broader Scam Technology Project, which is attempting to act on scam calls on Australian telecommunications networks.

As part of the project, the Communications Alliance is developing an industry code that “will mandate steps the telcos must take to identify, trace and block scam calls, and create an information-sharing framework for telcos to work with regulators against phone scams,” the Government added.

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