Watch out, tax scams about!

| July 11, 2018

As Tax Time 2018 begins, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is warning taxpayers to be on high alert for tax-related scams.

Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson said most Australian taxpayers expect some form of interaction with the ATO during tax time, and scammers take advantage of it to gain money and personal information from victims.

“Scammers are busy all year round, but we always see an increase in activity at tax time. In fact, more than 37,000 scam attempts were reported to the ATO during tax time last year. Although many people were alert and didn’t fall for the scams, hundreds handed over a total of more than $630,000, and thousands handed over their personal details.”

“The most common scam is still the “fake tax debt” phone scam, but we’re seeing an increase in “fake refund” or “refund for a fee” scams, and email and SMS scams enticing people to click a hyperlink, download a file or open an attachment.”

Ms Anderson said knowing how scammers work is important. “Scammers are aiming to make money and use a range of tactics. They may get money up front by pressuring you into paying a fake debt or by tricking you into paying a fee to have a refund released.

They may also get you to click on a link to divulge your login, personal or financial information, or to download a file or open an attachment which enables them to access your data. Once they have your data, they can either sell it or use it to impersonate you for financial gain.”

While handing over money is a concern, the ATO is just as concerned about people handing over personal or financial information. “Your personal information is like the keys to your identity and you should guard it in the same way you guard the keys to your house or car. If a stranger promised you some money in return for the keys to your house, you wouldn’t do it. The same should apply to your data.”

The promise of a refund can be alluring but Ms Anderson said the costs of falling for the “fake refund scam” can be high. “One taxpayer received a text message which appeared to be from the ATO. The text advised that if he paid a fee of $8.63 he would receive a refund of $2,600. The taxpayer provided his bank details via the included hyperlink and paid the small fee. Three days later an amount of $18,000 was fraudulently withdrawn from his bank account.”

Scammers frequently claim to be from the ATO and according to Ms Anderson, you should be wary of any phone call, text message, email, or letter about a tax refund or debt, especially if you weren’t expecting it. “The ATO regularly sends emails and SMS’s and we make lots of calls each week. But there are some tell-tale signs that it isn’t the ATO, including that the ATO will not:

Use aggressive or rude behaviour, or threaten you with arrest, jail or deportation;

Request payment of a debt via iTunes, pre-paid visa cards, cryptocurrency or direct credit to a bank account with a BSB that isn’t either 092-009 or 093-003;

Request a fee in order to release a refund owed to you;

Or email or SMS you asking you to click on a link to provide login, personal or financial information, or to download a file or open an attachment.

Last year the ATO received over 81,000 scams reports, with more than $2.4 million being paid to scammers and almost 10,000 people providing their personal information. Ms Anderson says that while the ATO will act on reports, the best way to stop the scammers is for the whole community to protect themselves and others, especially the elderly and people who are isolated.

Ms Anderson has some key tips for staying safe this tax time. “Anyone can be a target but you can reduce your chances of being a victim by following some simple steps:

Know your tax affairs – you can log into myGov to check your tax affairs at any time, or you can contact your tax agent or the ATO;

Guard your personal and financial information – be careful when clicking on links, downloading files or opening attachments. Only give your personal information to people you trust, and try not to share it on social media;

If you are unsure about whether a call, text message or email is genuine, don’t reply. Call the ATO on 1800 008 540;

Talk to your family and friends about scams. And if you or someone you know has fallen victim to a tax related scam, call the ATO as soon as you can;

“We encourage everyone to play their part in stopping scammers by reporting them to our scam line. Your reports help us refine our approach to dealing with scams, which in turn protects the Australian community.”

The ATO’s dedicated scams line is 1800 008 540.

Further information on how to protect yourself is available and you can take a quiz on your personal vulnerability to scams here.

Five simple ways to protect your family and friends from identity crimes

Know what to protect

Personal information that could be used by scammers to impersonate someone can include their full name, date of birth, current address, bank account numbers, credit card details, tax file number, drivers licence or passport details, and any passwords.

Remind them to keep their personal information safe and secure

If personal information is stolen it can be very difficult to get back. It’s best to store things like a tax file number or birth certificate somewhere safe and secure – don’t carry it around in a wallet or handbag or saved on a phone. Keep your passwords in a safe place and keep your virus protection current.

Warn them if they share too much on social media

Scammers can use information published on social networking sites to steal identities. If you see someone sharing personal information online, remind them that they could be putting themselves at risk of targeted attacks. It’s also a good idea to make sure profiles are set to private, and to be cautious about which friend requests to accept.

Be suspicious of requests for personal information

If you notice that your family and friends have received a request for their personal information, tell them to treat the request with caution. Scammers can be believable and will sometimes quote personal information to sound authentic, so if you hear that someone is asking for personal information, consider the possibility that it may be a scam. To check if a call, email, SMS is from the ATO call them on 1800 0008 540 to confirm.

Know legitimate ways to make payments

Scammers may use threatening tactics to trick their victims into paying false debts in pre-paid gift cards or by sending money to non-ATO bank accounts. To check that a payment method is legitimate, visit ato.gov.au/howtopay

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