Victorian Police have warned people against paying fake tax debts at Bitcoin ATMs.
Detectives from the Maribyrnong Crime Investigation Unit are investigating the scam, which has involved at least four people from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs depositing up to $50,000 at a bitcoin ATM in Braybrook.
The victims had been told that if they failed to pay an alleged tax debt then they would be arrested. In some cases they were told that the scammer had spoken to the individual’s accountant or to the Australian Federal Police in order to confirm the debt.
They were then given a bitcoin address to send the funds to using the ATM.
“We believe that there are a number of victims out there who have not reported the matter for one reason or another, they may be here on visas or they are not aware that authorities would never tell them to deposit money into an ATM,” said Acting Detective Sergeant Katherine Lehpamer
“It does appear that the scammers are targeting a certain group of people who they can convince that their immigration status is in jeopardy.”
The scam is similar to one in which payment for a tax debt is demanded in the form of iTunes cards. According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s latest Targeting Scams report, in 2017 it received reports of $1,231,000 million in losses from iTunes card scams. That represents a decrease from the approximately $1.6 million in reported losses in 2016.
(The ACCC noted that in some cases victims had listed the form of payment as credit card when reporting scams — as a result reported 2017 losses linked to iTunes card scams were closer to $1.9 million.)
Last year a warning was added to iTunes cards and major Australian retailers also posted signs alerting people to the scam.
Earlier this year the Australian Taxation Office warned that people were being conned into paying fake tax debts using bitcoin.
“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 in March.
“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.”
Last month NSW Police revealed that two Sydney residents had been charged for allegedly using cryptocurrencies to launder more than $300,000 netted through credit card fraud.