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Fake ATO Phone Message Being Used In Elaborate Scam Assessment Answer

Topic: Fake ATO Phone message being used in elaborate scam

1. Introduction -

2. The Nature of Online Scams Attacks & the Extent of the Problem - Sandhya

3. Combating the Problem & Existing legislation — Bel Bishwakarma 

4. Weaknesses in a legislative response -

5. A possible way forward to reduce scams - 

6. Conclusion -


Introduction to the Fake ATO Phone Messages

While advancements in information and communication technology have been instrumental in bringing the world closer, it has also laid some serious concerns in recent times. The communication mechanisms have strengthened in recent decades with mobile phones, helping us connect with people through calls and messages (Terkan, 2013). Governments worldwide are using the technology to connect with their citizens and inform them about different policies, schemes, and programs. However, to the governments' surprise, some disturbing elements of the society exploit such mechanisms for fraudulent measures. Phishing has been considered a major economic threat to any country's economic security. The scammers' phish' the people's personal and financial details and use them for extorting money from their bank accounts (Khonji, Iraqi and Jones, 2013). The recent Fake ATO phone messages, calls, and voicemails have raised concerns over this issue. The matter worsened to such extent that the Australian Tax Office (ATO) creates awareness amongst the people to beware of the fake phone messages and calls (Maiden, 2020). This scam has been marked as a grave concern because it nearly threatens and creates panic. The 'warning of arrest' frightens the people, even if they are regular taxpayers. The people are likely to fall under the trap and reveal their personal details to do away with such fears. The Communications Minister, Mr. Paul Fletcher, has been making sincere attempts to make people aware of fraudulent activities with no connection with the Australian Tax Office (ATO) (Dalzell, 2020). The office has also stated that it is hugely concerned about the increasing number of such cases. The numbers that are used by the scammers, by and large, resemble the authentic and standard numbers of the Australian Tax Office (ATO). Thus, it is reaching out to people to reduce the risk of getting conned by scammers. It has generated the helpline number on which the people can connect if they feel the call they have received for tax-related information is suspicious. It also publishes the scams' monthly report on its website to learn about the scammers' methods (ATO, 2021). The reports are alarming, as bank transfers continue to be rampant. Bank transfers are generally considered genuine by the people, and thus, scammers resort to making use of them. 

Mechanisms adopted by the Scammers

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) reports have stated that the scammers conduct such fraud, step by step. First, they send a text message that will ask the person to send back her/his personal and financial information via text message. Second, they respond with a text message that has the login details, by way of which the person can initiate the fraud tax payment. Third, they will then send a pre-recorded voice message that threatens the people saying that the police would be arriving to demand the tax money, or else they will arrest the person. Finally, when the person would confirm to pay the money, they would provide the person with varied options that may be used (Salmon, 2020). The scammers use various measures to keep the people in confidence by keeping them on the line until they make fake tax debt. They use cryptocurrency, gift cards, credit cards, etc., for receiving money from the people. As already mentioned above, the numbers used by the scammers resembles the official numbers used by the Australian Tax Office (ATO) for communication, so it instills faith among the people that they are talking to the tax authorities. While there are people who would question back the scammers if they have are regular taxpayers, the people who evade the taxes might easily come under the trap. This kind of phishing uses ultimatum to create fear among the people, even if they are genuine taxpayers. As per the reports, the scammers work in groups and have a vast global network specializing in such malpractices. They do have specialized software that makes it harder for investigating agencies to identify the real culprits. While the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has been successful in the operations where they arrested the accused involved in similar frauds or scams, the challenges still pose serious threats to the people's financial security (Miralis, 2020). As per the reports published, the Australian people have lost nearly $36 million, thanks to the scams in 2020 (Mirage News, 2020). These are some serious issues that can potentially harm an individual's financial security. Still, if this becomes rampant at a larger scale, it can even destabilize the country's economy to a certain extent.

Causes and Consequences of such events

The grave phishing and fake phone calls or messages scams that have taken place in Australia in recent years have made it necessary to look out for the causes for such acts. The scammers target innocent people for varied reasons. First, they easily fall prey to such calls or messages due to lack of awareness, and second, such acts are conducted in the span of few minutes, which makes it difficult for the people to look for the authenticity of the message or call (Harrison, Svetieva and Vishwanath, 2016). Another major reason why such acts have become rampant is advancements in technology and scammers' ease of learning such frauds from other places. Also, there is no major investment required to carry out such attempts. The scammers need to be aware of the people's software and critical details and act professionally enough to trap the people. The ease with which the scams have been taking place in Australia, being one of the OECD countries, raises questions over the conduct of investigation done by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). While this not just disturbs the country's image globally, it might also invite massive protests from the people who have lost their money in such scams. According to Williams (2019), phishing attacks have been the primary cause of the breaches in individuals' information in Australia. The Carbon Black reporting, in its reports, has mentioned that the government agencies have been used as a mechanism to target the individuals. While the Government might take punitive action against the culprits, it is worthy to note and such incidents can easily erode the faith of the individuals over the government. People are likely to claim compensation from the government for such violations. Ultimately, the government may be burdened with huge liabilities. While awareness plays a critical role in preventing such acts, the root cause for such frauds must be identified and prevented in the first action. Even if the country's domestic issues are kept aside for a while, if the money collected from phishing is used for money laundering activities globally, it can sincerely be brought the Australian Government into the limelight for infamous reasons; for not being able to prevent such events. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that these acts would reduce in the coming months or years unless prevented strongly; due to an increase in technological advancements. The scammers may change the way of trapping people. However, the grave offense is likely to continue. There is a desperate need for the Commonwealth Government to cooperate with the state governments and eliminate the menace of fake phone messages and calls that harm the individuals, society, and the country.

Designated Authorities to deal with the event

Since the time a surge was reported in the Fake ATO phone messages, in May 2020, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) has been making continuous attempts to reach out to the people and report them about such fraudulent acts taking place lately. Australian Tax Office (ATO) has asked the people to beware and take suitable action when, in doubt, if the call is from an authentic source, i.e., Australian Tax Office (ATO). The people can phone the Australian Tax Office (ATO) on a specific number, as provided, to report such scam events (ATO, 2021). Other such initiatives are Cyber Issue Reporting System and ScamWatch (ScamWatch, 2021). An Australian Tax Office (ATO) has been actively taking part in such initiatives to raise awareness among people to prevent scams from happening. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is also designated to educate people regarding phone scams and suggest various ways to prevent such events (ACMA, 2021). There are a varied number of problems that are associated with finding the solution for the fake messages and calls. The introduction of software that allows the perpetrators to use such mechanisms to carry out frauds can come in different forms. The increasing digitalization and difficulty in identifying suspicious software is a huge issue. The Government could be taken up with surprise every time they resolve such acts. The year 2020 has seen several spams calls not just in Australia but all over the world. The countries like Brazil, the USA, Hungary, Poland, Spain, among others, are the worst affected (Kok, 2020). According to the Truecaller, an application that identifies the callers has reported that fake calls and messages gained momentum in Australia in 2019 (Kok, 2019). Since then, it is on the rise. It is clear now that it is hard to identify the scammers, as they hardly hold any solid proof of conducting such events. They require few SIM cards, mobile phones, laptops, Fake Id documents, accounts in different banks, etc., to successfully con the people. Australia is a huge continent with several states. It is not very difficult for a few people to manage to acquire a few SIM cards and devices and conduct these acts. Also, it is difficult for the Police to see all this with suspicion. Thus, there is a need for a robust system that tracks such unusual activities. 

Possible Actions

While the attempts are being already carried out by the Australian Tax Office (ATO), ScamWatch, Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA); to create awareness and educate people regarding such scams, some strong actions may help prevent these frauds. The Federal Minister for Government Services, Mr. Stuart Robert, has assured the people that the Government is working closely with Telstra to block the numbers used in fake phone messages and calls (Canales, 2020). Apart from that, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the state polices are trying to catch the culprits based on the agencies' calls and messages traffic inputs. It must be realized that while the authorities would continue to eliminate such frauds in the short-term, there are utmost chances that such events are likely to take place even in the coming months or years. The estimates of the Truecaller have revealed that the spam messages are unforeseen. A country such as the USA was the second major victim of fake calls and messages in 2020 (Kok, 2020). This shows that even the robust policing system might not be able to prevent such acts. Thus, the Commonwealth Government must draw a lesson from this. Like Telstra, other stakeholders involved in the communication network, even the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), broadband network, etc., must be considered while designing a system that prevents such acts. Moreover, the educational drive and awareness campaigns must reach out to the common people by all measures. The government notifications are still doing much-needed favor; however, there is still a lot needed. The schools, departmental stores, government offices, federal courts, community areas, etc., must be used diligently to spread awareness. Continuous efforts are likely to resolve the issue to a larger extent. The Government must also set up a high-level committee that studies the root causes behind people taking up such fraudulent measures. Apart from all these measures, the banks must also be considered as a major stakeholder in this regard. The banks can help the government provide the information of the suspicious bank holders, helping it greatly. These crimes' international linkage can pose a serious threat to economic and even national security as already discussed above. The critical infrastructure of the country may also be attacked to gain credible and sensitive information. When cyber-security is a worrying concept in the international domain, these domestic attacks on individuals to extract money can lead to a major problem. Thus, a robust network to track these events as a short-term approach and widespread awareness campaigns as a long-term approach may help the country fight the menace of fake calls and messages intended to violate individuals' economic security.

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