ATO issues bitcoin scam warning

Cryptocurrency variation on old iTunes gift card scam

The Australian Taxation Office says that scammers impersonating the government agency have successfully conned Australians into paying fake tax debts using bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

The ATO revealed today that scammers had swindled Australians to the tune of $50,000 worth of cryptocurrency.

“Cryptocurrency operates in a virtual world, and once the scammers receive payment, it’s virtually impossible to get it back,” ATO assistant commissioner Kath Anderson said.

“Scammers are constantly adapting their methods to maximise their chances of picking your pocket. Unfortunately it was inevitable that scammers would target cryptocurrency given its current popularity and anonymity.”

In the past similar scams have involved demanding payment in iTunes cards or pre-paid Visa cards.

“In 2017, the ATO received over 80,000 reports of scams, with taxpayers reporting almost $2.4 million lost to scammers claiming to be from the ATO,” Anderson said.

Bitcoin is only involved in a minority of those scams, according to the ATO.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s Serious Financial Crime in Australia 2017 stated that the “anonymity offered by virtual currencies and associated software applications is likely to be highly attractive to criminals”.

“Bitcoin offers a level of anonymity for users that can be increased when it is used in combination with anonymising software,” the ACIC report said. “There are also a range of other virtual currencies, such as ZCash and Monero, which offer anonymity far exceeding that of Bitcoin.”

In December, parliament passed legislation that closed what the government described as a “regulatory gap” by extending Australia’s anti-money-laundering regime to businesses that operate as digital currency exchanges.

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