Radar alert first published 17 July 2014
Scamwatch and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) are urging consumers and small businesses to be aware of scammers taking advantage of the busy nature of tax time to target you.
Scammers pretending to be from the ATO will typically approach you by phone or email and spin a range of tall tales to trick you into handing over your personal details or money. A common tax time scam involves scammers claiming that you have overpaid your tax and are entitled to a refund, but that you have to pay a tax or administration fee upfront in order for the money to be released. Another tax scam is based on the ruse that you owe money due to a miscalculation from the previous financial year. Scammers also continue to pedal the classic phishing scam where they ‘fish’ for your details by asking you to verify your details.
Scammers use a number of tools to slip under your radar you at tax time – from impersonating an ATO representative, to creating official looking emails and email addresses, to creating sleek and professional-looking websites that mirror the ATO site. They have even been known to create web portals that appear to be hosted on the ATO site, which are designed to trick you into providing your personal details.
Beware – scammers may even recite some personal information about you to trick you into thinking they’re the real deal. These days, it’s easy for scammers to get a hold of personal information from social media and other networking forums.
Your personal details, including your Tax File Number, credit card or bank details are valuable and should never be provided to a stranger. If you hand over your personal information to a scammer, they can use it to commit identity theft and steal your money. You should also be very wary of any requests to send money via money transfer – it’s nearly impossible to recover money sent this way.
The ATO advises that from time to time it will send taxpayers emails, SMS messages or official social media updates alerting them to new services. However, the ATO will never request personal or financial information by SMS or email.
If you receive a call or email out of the blue from someone claiming to represent the ATO and that you are entitled to, or owe money – just hang up or press delete. You can check whether they’re the real deal by calling the ATO on its official contact number: 13 28 61.
How these scams work
Here are some common tax time scams to be aware of:
- Tax refund scams – these scams typically involve the scammer telling you that you have overpaid your tax and are now entitled to a tax refund. In order to receive the refund, the scammer claims that you will first need to pay an ‘administration’ or ‘transfer’ fee via money transfer. They may also ask for your financial details, claiming that this is for the purpose of transferring the money to you.
- Tax owed scams – scammers will claim that you have underpaid your tax and are now required to repay the tax debt immediately. They may request your credit card details or ask you to pay the outstanding amount via a money transfer. They may also ask you to purchase a pre-paid debit card, such as a ‘Load and Go’ card from your local post office, and then send them the card details so that they can access the money.
- Phishing emails – scammers will often try to steal your identity or money by sending you an email that pretends to be from a trusted entity such as the ATO. The scammer will ‘fish’ for your personal details by trying to get you to fill in a form, or click on a link that will allow them to infect your computer with viruses and malware.
- If you receive an email or phone call out of the blue from ‘the ATO’ claiming that you are entitled to a refund, that you owe money or asking you to confirm, update or disclose confidential details like your tax file number, press ‘delete’ or just hang up. Verify the caller or sender by contacting the ATO on its official contact number: 13 28 61.
- The ATO advises that you should be very careful with whom you share your tax file number (TFN). Never put your tax file number (TFN) on your resume – only give it to your employer after you have started your job. Never share your TFN, myGov or bank account details on social media. You should also change your passwords if you have shared them with anyone, including family and friends.
- The ATO also advises that if you use a tax agent, make sure they are registered by checking at www.tpb.gov.au/onlineregister.
- Don’t open any attachments or click on any links in, or reply to, suspicious emails – they may take you to a bogus website or contain a malicious virus.
- Always keep your computer security up to date with anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a good firewall. Only buy computer and anti-virus software from a reputable source.
- If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.
If people receive a call from someone claiming to represent the ATO and are concerned about providing their personal information over the phone, they should ask for the caller’s name, end the call and then phone them back using the ATO’s official contact number: 13 28 61.
You can forward suspected ATO email scams by forwarding the original email to ReportEmailFraud@ato.gov.au.
You can report scams to the ACCC via the Scamwatch report a scam page. You should also spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.
To increase community awareness of scams the ATO has launched a new video campaign on www.ato.gov.au/identitycrime with helpful tips to protect personal information.
Information on online security and scams can be found on the ATO website.
Stay one step ahead of scammers, follow @Scamwatch_gov.