Scammers are constantly looking for new and subversive ways to trick you into giving them your money. Unfortunately, tax season is no exception.
With the ATO issuing more than $51 billion in refunds in the past three tax seasons, scammers often try to impersonate trusted organisations, such as the Australian Tax Office (ATO), in order to scam people via social media, email, phone or text.
That's why it's important to be aware of the warning signs of a tax scam before you become a victim.
Social media scams
An alert released in January warns taxpayers to be vigilant about fake social media accounts impersonating employees, senior staff, and the ATO itself.
These fake accounts ask users that interact with the ATO to send them a direct message so they can help with their enquiry. The people behind these fake accounts are trying to steal your personal information, including phone numbers, email addresses and bank account information.
The best way for you to verify that it’s really the ATO is to:
- Check how many people follow the account. The ATO’s verified Facebook and LinkedIn accounts have over 200,000 followers, and their Twitter account has over 65,000 followers.
- Check activity on the accounts. The ATO’s official social media channels have been operating for around 10 years – if it’s a newly created account, or only has a few posts, it’s not them.
- Check if accounts are verified. Look for the grey tick next to the username (@ato_gov_au) on Twitter and the blue tick next to their name (Australian Taxation Office) on Facebook.
- Check the domain extension. Make sure any email addresses provided to you end with ‘.gov.au’.
According to Scamwatch, there were a total of 63,820 reported phone scams in 2022 that resulted in over $141 million in losses. These scams often involve any one of these scenarios:
|Scammers may use technology to show real ATO or Australian phone numbers in the caller ID or call log.
|When the ATO actually calls you, the number shows as No Caller ID.
|Scammers may tell you that your tax file number (TFN) has been cancelled or suspended due to money laundering or other criminal activity.
|TFNS are not cancelled by the ATO.
|Scammers may refuse to allow you to speak with a trusted adviser or your regular tax agent.
|The ATO will never prevent you from speaking with your trusted adviser/agent.
|Scammers may request payment being made through retail gift cards, vouchers, cardless cash ATM withdrawals, cryptocurrency, offshore wire or even by paying money into a personal bank account.
|The ATO does not accept payment through vouchers, retail gift cards, cardless cash ATM withdrawals, cryptocurrency or offshore wire transfers. The ATO will only ask for tax debt to be paid into a bank account held by the Reserve Bank of Australia.
|Scammers may request that you pay a fee to receive a tax refund. They will usually ask you to pay the fee using your credit card and then steal your credit card details.
|The ATO will never ask you to pay a fee to receive your refund.
Email / SMS scams
Email and Text Messaging scams resulted in $105.9 million in losses in 2022, and the trend is not showing any signs of slowing down. If you’re not careful, you could be the next victim.
Make sure you to look for these warning signs in emails and text messages so you can better protect yourself against scammers:
|Scammers may ask you to provide your personal identifying and financial institution details through a return SMS or email to receive a refund
|The ATO may use SMS or email to ask you to contact them, but they will never send an unsolicited message asking you to return personal identifying information through these channels.
|Scammers may request that you click on a link in an SMS or email to log on to an online service, creating a fake log on page that captures your credentials.
|The ATO never sends an email or SMS with a link to log in.
|Scammers may ask you to click on a link in an SMS or email to download forms or attachments (with the aim of installing malicious software on your computer to gain access to your data).
|You must be careful when downloading attachments or clicking on links, even if the message seems to come from someone you know.
How to protect yourself from tax scams
Now that you know the warning signs of a tax scam, here are some of the things you can do to avoid falling victim to it:
- Verify the identity of the person contacting you. If someone claiming to be from the ATO contacts you, verify their identity by calling the ATO directly. Do not use the contact details provided by the person contacting you.
- Be wary of unsolicited emails, letters, and phone calls. Scammers often use unsolicited emails, letters, and phone calls to try to trick people into providing personal information or making payments. Be cautious of any unsolicited contact, and do not provide any personal information or make any payments without verifying the legitimacy of the request.
- Don't trust caller ID. Don't trust the caller ID alone to verify the identity of the caller. Scammers can manipulate caller ID to make it appear as if they are calling from a legitimate organisation.
- Be cautious of requests for unusual payment methods. Scammers often ask for payment via unusual methods, such as pre-loaded debit cards or electronic currency like Bitcoin.
- Keep your personal information private. Protect your personal information by not providing it to anyone you don't know or trust. Don't share your tax file number or any other sensitive information unless you are sure the request is legitimate.
- Report suspected scams. If you suspect you have been targeted by a tax scam, report it to the ATO immediately. You can also report scams to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) via their Scamwatch website.
By following these steps, you can help protect yourself from tax scams and keep your personal information and finances secure.
Tax scams can be hard to spot, but you can protect yourself with the right knowledge and vigilance. Be sure to always double-check any calls, emails or messages that appear to come from the ATO, and be wary of requests for payment through gift cards or offshore wire transfers.
Remember – if it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn't. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you navigate tax season and stay protected.