‘Fake tax debt’: ATO warn of tax time scammers

Tax time is prime time for scammers, says the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) who are urging Australians to keep their personal information secure and to report any suspicious activity immediately after more than 37,000 scam attempts were reported last year.

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.”

The ATO said there were some tell-tale signs that emails and SMS’s were not from them. 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.

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,” she said.

“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,” Ms Anderson said.

“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 $2600. 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.”

Ms Anderson has some key tips for staying safe this tax time.

  • 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.

The ATO’s dedicated scams line is 1800 008 540. More details: staysmartonline.gov.au/taxtime18