Received a phone call from the ATO demanding payment for a debt?

Your first reaction might be one of fear or panic, but relax – it’s a hoax.

But what may have made the call seem legitimate is the displayed on the caller line identification (CLI) – a verifiable phone number of the Australian Taxation Office.

Yet that was a lie, too.

‘Spoofing’, the act of disguising a communication from a suspect source to appear as coming from a trusted sender, generated more than 107,000 reports from the public to the ATO in 2019.

“Our Government was determined to act to stop these scammers preying on Australians and using a ‘spoofed’ ATO number as part of their scam,” said Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher.

“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.”

Scammers are able to hide the real number a call is originating from and ‘overstamp’ it with a phone number of their choice, in this case, that of the ATO.

Many of these calls are from overseas numbers.

In the trial, telcos were able to identify which calls had been overstamped with the ATO numbers and subsequently block them.

While not eliminating the problem, it does impede greatly on the scammers’ ease to fool people.

“This trial has been highly successful in blocking spoof calls from specified ATO numbers,” Fletcher said.

“While it will not stop scammers randomly ringing Australians pretending to be from the ATO, it will stop specific ATO numbers appearing in the CLI display on the recipient’s phone, thus making the scam seem much less convincing.”

Communications Alliance, the industry body for telcos, is developing an industry code which will mandate the steps telcos must take to “identify, trace, and block scam calls”.

Called the ‘Reducing Scam Calls’ code, it will also create an information-sharing framework for telcos to work with regulators to address phone call scams.