The ATO (Australian Taxation Office) has issued a warning about a new scammer method targeting taxpayers, as scammers ramp up their activity in September 2018.
Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson said the new method had the fraudsters initiate a three-way telephone conversation between the scammer, the victim, and another scammer impersonating the victim’s tax agent.
“One recent example had a taxpayer unfortunately thinking the telephone conversation was legitimate, and ended up withdrawing thousands of dollars in cash and depositing it into a Bitcoin ATM, fearing the police had a warrant out for his arrest,” Ms Anderson said.
Ms Anders said taxpayers expect to be contacted by the ATO during tax time, so scammers take advantage of this and often pretend to be the ATO, posing as a staff member to swindle Australians out of their money.
“We are at the half-way point of tax time, and we’ve seen an increase in reports in recent months. In September we typically see these high volumes continue, so we are warning the community to be on the lookout for things that don’t look or feel quite right.
“During July 2018 and August 2018 the ATO received over 7000 scam reports to our dedicated phone line, with close to $190,000 being paid to scammers and over 1600 people handed over their personal or financial information. While we see new scams pop up from time to time, the most common scam is still the ‘fake tax debt’ phone scam, though the ‘fake refund’ and ‘refund for a fee’ scams are on the rise,” she said.
According to ATO intelligence reports, there has been an increase in reports of emails and SMS’ phishing for personal and financial information, resulting in the ATO taking disruptive action on over 90 fake ATO web pages.
“Australians are generally pretty good at identifying scams but there has been a distinct increase in the level of scam sophistication. The cloned web addresses linked to scam emails are sometimes difficult to distinguish from ato.gov.au and the compromise of your personal information via this method may remain undetected with impacts only realised many months later,” Ms Anderson said.
Ms Anderson said that knowing how the scammers operate and identifying their motives is key to keeping taxpayers information secure.
“Scammers aren’t just looking at getting a quick fix through an upfront payment. They are increasingly looking to get your personal information, and once they gain this data they can sell it or use it to impersonate you for their own financial gain.”
The promise of a refund can be alluring but Ms Anderson said the costs of falling for these scams can be high.
“One taxpayer received an email which appeared to be from the ATO. The email requested her to click a link to download her BAS for lodgement. Clicking the link ran malicious software which gave the scammer access to all data on her computer. She later found that her credit rating had been severely impacted as the scammers racked up large unpaid debts in her and her business’ name.”
Taxpayers should be wary of any phone call, text message, email, or letter about a tax refund or debt, especially if you weren’t expecting it. “While the ATO regularly phones taxpayers, sends emails and send SMS’s each week, there are some tell-tale signs that it isn’t the ATO. The ATO will not:
- use aggressive or rude behaviour, or threaten you with immediate arrest, jail or deportation;
- request payment of a debt via iTunes, pre-paid visa cards, cryptocurrency (for example bitcoin ATM) 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 says that while the ATO analyses every report, the best way to stop the scammers is prevention, and for the community to protect themselves and others, especially older Australians and people who may have limited social interaction with others.
“Taxpayers can play their part in stopping scammers by reporting them to our scam line. Your reports help us to get an accurate picture in what is happening with the current scams, which ultimately helps the Australian community.”
The ATO’s dedicated scams line is 1800 008 540.
Further information on how to protect yourself is available at www.staysmartonline.gov.au/taxtime18
Are you a risk to yourself? Take our scams quiz to find out – https://lets-talk.ato.gov.au/ScamQuiz
Five simple ways to protect your family and friends from identity crimes
Know what to protect
Personal information that could be used by scammers to impersonate someone can include their full name, date of birth, current address, bank account numbers, credit card details, tax file number, drivers licence or passport details, and any passwords.
Remind them to keep their personal information safe and secure
If personal information is stolen it can be very difficult to get back. It’s best to store things like a tax file number or birth certificate somewhere safe and secure – don’t carry it around in a wallet or handbag or saved on a phone. Keep your passwords in a safe place and keep your virus protection current.
Warn them if they share too much on social media
Scammers can use information published on social networking sites to steal identities. If you see someone sharing personal information online, remind them that they could be putting themselves at risk of targeted attacks. It’s also a good idea to make sure profiles are set to private, and to be cautious about which friend requests to accept.
Be suspicious of requests for personal information
If you notice that your family and friends have received a request for their personal information, tell them to treat the request with caution. Scammers can be believable and will sometimes quote personal information to sound authentic, so if you hear that someone is asking for personal information, consider the possibility that it may be a scam. To check if a call, email, SMS is from the ATO call us on 1800 008 540 to confirm.
Know legitimate ways to make payments
Scammers may use threatening tactics to trick their victims into paying false debts in pre-paid gift cards or by sending money to non-ATO bank accounts. To check that a payment method is legitimate, visit ato.gov.au/howtopay