IT’S tax time, which means the scammers are out in force.
The Australian Taxation Office is warning everyone to be on the lookout as scammers experiment with new techniques.
“In the last couple of years, not only have we seen a significant increase in the number of scams reported to us but also the different types of approaches used by fraudsters,” ATO Assistant Commissioner Graham Whyte said.
In 2015, almost 87,000 phone and email scams were reported to the ATO, an increase of more than 90 per cent from 2014.
From January to May this year, the ATO received more than 40,500 phone scam reports. Of those 226 Australians handed over $1.2 million and more than 1900 gave out personal information, including tax file numbers.
“Most Australians are pretty good at catching fraudsters in the act,” Mr Whyte said.
“This is clear from the amount of scams reported to us compared to the number of people handing over money and personal information. We encourage people to continue to be vigilant and to protect their personal information by keeping it private.”
Mark Chapman, director of communications at H&R Block, said the accounting firm received dozens of reports every day from clients who had been contacted by scammers.
He said the main scams were the “threatening phone call”, the “too good to be true phone call”, the “too good to be true email” and the “malware email”.
“There will probably be others that will emerge,” he said. “They’re pretty creative, and as these scams get well known they move onto the next one.”
Mr Whyte said lately the ATO had been receiving reports of a variation of the aggressive phone call, where callers impersonating ATO officers demand payment via iTunes gift cards and prepaid Visa gift cards purchased from supermarkets and department stores.
“We will never request the payment of a tax debt via gift or prepaid cards such as iTunes and Visa cards. Nor will we ask for direct credit to be paid to a personal bank account,” he said.
“We would never cold call you about a debt, we would never threaten jail or arrest, and our staff certainly wouldn’t behave in an aggressive manner. If you’re not sure, hang up and call us back on 1800 008 540.”
Mr Whyte added that while the ATO does communicate with people via bulk email, it would never request personal details, such as banking information. If such personal details were required, you would be redirected to the ATO’s online services.
TOP TAX TIME SCAMS
1. The Threatening Phone Call
“This was last year’s biggie and still seems to be rife,” said Mr Chapman.
“Someone calls the taxpayer claiming to be from the ATO and stating that the taxpayer has an outstanding debt which needs to be paid immediately in order to avoid a tax audit, issue of bailiffs, police arrest, or somesuch.
“The taxpayer is told to make an immediate payment — often with the ‘ATO officer’ still on the phone. The ATO doesn’t chase debts in this way so any phone call like this is always a scam.
“The ‘ATO-officer’ will often leave an Australian landline number to call back on, though that typically diverts to a mobile god-knows-where. This seems to have been a very effective scam, there are multiple reports of people paying-up.”
2. The Too-Good-To-Be-True Phone Call
“Almost the reverse of the above, [and] less common than it used to be,” he said.
“Someone calls the taxpayer claiming to be from the ATO and stating that the taxpayer is owed money by the ATO — maybe a tax refund, maybe some kind of government grant.
“All the taxpayer has to do to get it is provide their bank details over the phone. Sometimes they are asked to pay a sum of money to a third party in order to get the tax refund. Again, the ATO never approaches taxpayers in this manner, so such calls are always a scam.”
3. The Too-Good-To-Be-True Email
“A variation on the above, but done by email instead of phone,” he said.
“You will often be asked to provide your credit card details. The standard of English is often poor. The email address might look superficially like an ATO email address, such as ‘ato.com.au’, rather than ‘ato.gov.au’, which is the real email domain.”
4. The Malware Email
“This type of email is less interested in getting your bank or credit details and more interested in infecting your computer with a virus,” Mr Chapman said.
“The form of the email might be very similar to three, above, but you’ll be encouraged to click on a link. If you do, your computer will be infected with a virus or malware, which could do anything from slowing your machine down to freezing your computer — effectively holding your machine hostage for payment of a ransom.”