Detective Superintendent Terry Lawrence described the change in tactic as “concerning” but said it also showed the message was getting through.
“The criminals are thinking all the time to get around our messaging,” he said.
In the new version of the long-running ATO scam, the victim is first called by a fake ATO official who threatens them and tells them they owe thousands in fines or fees.
The scammer tells the victim they need to pay the money in giftcards — the most popular being from GooglePlay and iTunes — or they will be arrested.
The scammer also asks them what their closest police station is.
Minutes after the victim is called by the fake ATO official and threatened to pay a sum of money in giftcards, the victim receives a second call.
If the victim has caller ID, the number shows up as having come from their nearest Queensland Police station.
When the victim answers, the scammer pretends to be a police officer — even giving the victim a fake badge number — and implores them to pay the ATO.
Victims said the fake officers even threatened them with arrest or legal action if they don’t pay the ATO.
The tactic is known as ID spoofing and uses an internet-controlled phone number.
“Criminals are using a practice known as caller ID spoofing — where they manipulate the telephone network to indicate the incoming call is from a different number, in this case a QPS number,” police warned today.
Investigators said it’s an alarming development in a long-running scam, where victims are told they owe the tax office or other government departments money.
In a statement, Queensland Police issued an “urgent warning” over the scam.
In a press conference this afternoon, Detective Superintendent Terry Lawrence from the financial and cyber crime group said the change in tactic was “concerning”.
“It’s important people are warned. People need to be able to ring the police when they need assistance and speak to them trustfully,” Mr Lawrence said.
Investigators said the scam has only affected north Queensland residents so far but are hoping to “saturate the state" with the warning before anyone else is affected.
One victim has already handed over $4000 of their own, hard-earned money as a result of this scam.
“While this may sound alarm bells and cause the public to become extra cynical when they receive a call like this, then we are 100 per cent fine with this. We want you to be on your guard and we want you to question anyone who asks you for money,” Mr Lawrence said.
“The biggest fault in this scam is that they ask you to pay the fee or fine in gift cards. Just know, no government agency, law enforcement or any legitimate organisation will ask you to pay them in gift cards.”
Police said ID spoofing is “unfortunately very easy”.
“It’s important we get out on the front foot so people can be wary of it...We want to make sure we saturate Queensland to ensure everybody doesn’t become a victim,” Mr Lawrence said.
Potential victims are being warned, if they do receive a threatening call from a Queensland Police station, to head to the official website and re-call the number listed.
“These scammers are pretty effective,” Mr Lawrence said.
“They cajole and threaten people with such realistic means that people succumb to the pressure. (We want people) to slow the pace down and take control.”
Australian Cyber Online Reporting Network (ACORN) indicates they have had 121 reports of the ATO scam in Queensland in 2019, totalling $173,000.
Police have commenced enquiries regarding this scam and the illegal use of the police number and are encouraging any potential victims to report the call.
More than 300 Australians have been scammed out of $1 million since the start.