It was Stay Smart Online last week and the ATO provided an update on simple ways in which to protect yourself (and your friends and family) from scammers. Taxpayers need to be ever-vigilant about bogus calls, text messages and emails from scammers. Some scammers go to great lengths to deceive taxpayers, including impersonating government representatives on the phone, sending fraudulent emails and even creating fake websites.
The ATO reported recently that the most common type of scam is where the scammer demands payment for a fake tax debt or sends an email asking for personal information in order to pay out a refund, which may at first glance appear quite attractive! Not only do scammers try to steal money, they also try to steal identities. The Government has identified several cases of misuse of stolen personal information that have led to fraudulent income tax returns, as well as GST, superannuation and welfare frauds.
Scammers are becoming more sophisticated in their attempts to defraud the public and trick people into handing over money, their tax file numbers and other personal information. A recent scam is to telephone people, displaying an official-looking ATO number as a caller ID so the victim feels confident enough to engage with the scammer and will provide personal information – this type of impersonation is known as “spoofing”. Sending emails containing links to bogus websites that mirror the official ATO website is also still a popular scamming method.
The typical story is that a fraudster contacts a taxpayer out of the blue claiming that the taxpayer has overpaid taxes and is entitled to a refund. The fraudster often asks the taxpayer to pay an “administration” or “transfer” fee to obtain the refund. They may also ask for the taxpayer’s personal details, including financial details such as bank account information so that the “refund” can be transferred. If the taxpayer hands over money, chances are that it is never seen again, and no transfer is forthcoming.
Another tactic is when fraudsters phone to demand that people pay allegedly unpaid taxes. The ATO is aware of one such aggressive scam where taxpayers are threatened with arrest if they do not pay a fake “tax debt” over the phone. Scammers may also demand payment in gift cards, such as iTunes or prepaid Visa cards.
Kath Anderson, Assistant Commissioner recommends for people to look out not just to protect their own personal identity but also to make family and friends available to the risks. Those people who may be particularly vulnerable are those who do not have regular interaction with ATO and so may find it more difficult to determine genuine requests for information from those that intend to cause harm.
“There are a few simple steps taxpayers can take to protect themselves online, including only giving out personal details to people you trust, keeping tabs on your tax affairs so you know what to expect, and to be cautious about personal information that you share, especially on social media.”
If you receive an email, a text message (SMS), or an unexpected phone call from “the ATO” claiming that you are entitled to a refund, or that you owe taxes, or that you must confirm, update or disclose confidential details, such as your tax file number, delete the message or hang up the phone. Do not click any links or download any attachments.
From time to time, the ATO itself will send emails, text messages or official social media updates to advise you of new services. However, the ATO’s messages will never request personal or financial information by SMS or email, and its representatives will never ask you to pay money into a personal bank account.
If you receive a call, an email or an SMS and are concerned about providing personal information, you can call the ATO on 1800 008 540 (8 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday), forward the suspicious email to ReportEmailFraud@ato.gov.au, or check your myGov account for any message from the ATO. You can also contact our office for more information if you have concerns.
You should practise the same level of vigilance in relation to calls and emails from people who claim to be from other government bodies, such as state revenue authorities.
Document verification service for businesses
The Government has developed an electronic Document Verification Service (DVS) for business use. The DVS can help you protect your business against identity crime and makes it easier for you to meet any regulatory obligations to verify your customers’ identities. The DVS allows businesses to verify information on Australian-issued driver licences, passports, visas and Medicare cards “in real time” directly with the issuing agencies. The system is not a database and does not store any personal information. All DVS checks must occur with the informed consent of the person involved. Further information is available on the DVS website at http://www.dvs.gov.au/.