Tax time = prime time for scams

The ATO is reminding taxpayers that tax time = prime time for scams, and to be on the lookout for tax-related scams during Tax Time 2016. It points out that fraudulent activity surrounding tax is on the increase, noting that in 2015 almost 87,000 phone and email scams were reported to the ATO, which it says is an increase of more than 90% from 2014.

Assistant Commissioner Graham Whyte says scammers are particularly active during Tax Time because of the large number of people lodging their tax returns. “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,” Whyte says.

From January to May this year, the ATO received more than 40,500 phone scam reports. Of these, 226 Australian taxpayers handed over $1.2 million to fraudsters, and more than 1,900 of them gave out some form of personal information, including tax file numbers.

Whyte said that while most people were able to identify scams, it is important to remain alert during tax time. “Most Australians are pretty good at catching fraudsters in the act. This is clear from the amount of scams reported to us compared to the number of people handing over money and personal information,” he says.

Whyte says that although the ATO makes thousands of outbound calls to taxpayers a week, there are some key differences between a legitimate call from the ATO and a call from a potential scammer.

“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,” he says. “If you’re not sure, hang up and call us back on 1800 008 540.”

Whyte says that the ATO has lately been receiving reports of a variation of this aggressive tax debt scam, where callers impersonating ATO officers demand payment via iTunes gift cards and pre-paid Visa gift cards bought from supermarkets and department stores.

“We will never request the payment of a tax debt via gift or pre-paid cards such as iTunes and Visa cards. Nor will we ask for direct credit to be paid to a personal bank account.”

Whyte says while the ATO does communicate with people via bulk email, it would never request personal details, such as banking information. He says if such personal details were required, you would be redirected to ATO Online services.

If you think you have been contacted by a fraudster or have fallen victim to a phone scam, contact the ATO on 1800 008 540.