Australians used bitcoin to pay AU$50k-worth of fake ATO tax debts in 2017

The Australian Taxation Office has warned of scammers impersonating the ATO and demanding cryptocurrency as a form of payment, revealing AU$50,000 was handed over last year in bitcoin.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has issued a warning, asking the public to err on the side of caution when it comes to the elusive cryptocurrency space, after it revealed over AU$50,000 was paid via bitcoin to scammers last year claiming fake ATO tax debts.

"Cryptocurrency operates in a virtual world, and once the scammers receive payment, it's virtually impossible to get it back," Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson said in a statement.

"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."

As the ATO does not have transparency over what cryptocurrency is owned by tax payers -- Austrac only recently got the legislative approval to monitor digital currency for anti-money laundering purposes -- it's unclear why those in possession of bitcoin thought the taxation office would require them to pay via non-Australian dollars for an individual debt.

Speaking at the APAC Blockchain Conference in Melbourne on Tuesday, Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy and Shadow Minister for Employment Services, Workforce Participation and Future of Work Ed Husic said bitcoin's bedrock -- blockchain -- is increasingly catching the eye of governments.

"I am conscious it is has been said by many people that blockchain today is at the internet's equivalent of 1993, so speculating about the future form of regulation at this point is not helpful," Husic said. "But I would say that investment in skills and raising awareness and understanding by government is."

Must read: The risky business of Bitcoin: High-profile cryptocurrency catastrophes of 2017

According to Husic, there are two broad pathways government can take when it comes to cryptocurrencies and the blockchain concept as a whole, the first being via the likes of the CSIRO applying it in particular ways to test the possibility of certain outcomes ahead of considering a wider application.

"The other will see government collaborating actively with blockchain's champions," he said to a room of people that have paid to attend a blockchain conference.

"But the concept of a platform that brings together the blockchain community and government, to help accelerate the application of this technology within government, is something that government should be thinking about, better still, acting on now.

"I think that government will embrace blockchain eventually because of the potential it has for good public outcomes."

In concluding his speech, Husic said blockchain has the potential to make all sorts of services and transactions more affordable, and bring together individuals who have been at the margins into the global economy.

"I am optimistic about the potential of blockchain particularly in Australia," he added. "We need the skills of many within our wider population if we want to lead the world."


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