Tax season heralds a flurry of finding receipts, scrolling through bank statements, generating EOFY reports, and lodging tax returns – and it’s also a time for scammers to crawl out of the woodwork targeting unsuspecting consumers.
You say to yourself that you’ll never fall victim. That something like that will never happen to you, but no matter how careful you are, the truth is that scammers are so convincing and good at what they do that you might not know you’ve been scammed until you look at the missing numbers in your bank account.
Scammers are extra creative at tax time, and use the fear of being audited and incurring penalties from the ATO to drive even the savviest person to make a mistake. It’s important to stay extra vigilant during tax season, and there are red flags that indicate if you’re dealing with a scam artist instead of the real deal.
- The ATO will never send an email or SMS with a hyperlink to their online services such as myGov.
- The ATO will never request personal identifying information via a return email unless you’ve agreed to engage with them that way
- The ATO will never threaten you with immediate arrest and insist you stay on the line until you make a payment
- The ATO will never prevent you from discussing your tax affairs with your registered tax agent or tax accountant
- The ATO will never request payment of a tax debt via iTunes, Google Play cards or other vouchers, cryptocurrency, cardless cash transfer, offshore wire transfer or into a bank account not held by the Reserve Bank of Australia
- The ATO will never ask you to pay a fee to receive a refund
What are the ways you could be scammed?
Fraudulent Tax Preparers
While the majority of tax agents are honest, there are some that are downright dodgy. These scams involve the ‘agent’ putting together false claims to boost a refund and pocketing the money, while others will outright steal your information. To make sure your tax agent is going to deal honestly with you and the ATO, check to see if they are a registered tax agent. Registered tax agents have gone through a stringent qualification and application process and are the only professionals allowed to charge a fee for doing your tax return. They can be checked by searching the Tax Practitioners Board web site.
Phishing includes fake emails, advertisements, SMS or web sites to gain personal information. Hackers will send you a phishing email or SMS that use a fake link that will ask you for your information. Scammers may also create fake social media accounts and send requests for personal indentifying information.
The ATO is on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn but will never use social media platforms to ask about payments or ask for personal identifiable information. They will never interact with you via Whatsapp.
Scammers may threaten you with immediate arrest or may send unsolicited pre-recorded calls (robocalls) to your phone. They will be delivered when you answer the call or left on your voice mail and will ask you to return their call. Responding to a robocall gives the scammer increased certainty that they are speaking to someone who they have already half reeled in and will apply pressure to make you do what they ask you to do.
Legitimate caller ID numbers are registered in your call log and may even include ATO numbers making you think the call originates from an Australian number. Calls from the ATO do not show a number on caller ID. Make sure you never call back on an independently sourced number.
If you’re asked to make immediate payment and are kept on the line while making you pay, you’re being scammed. Some may even go so far as to tell you that if you hang up, it will trigger an immediate arrest to make sure you don’t end the call. The ATO will never insistent that you remain on the call until a payment is made.
Scammers will also not let you verify their call. If in doubt, call your tax agent or phone the ATO directly to confirm the reason for their call. On the flip side, scammers may attempt to make a third party call to a fake tax agent or law enforcer to increase your fear response. You have to realise that the second person dialled in also forms part of the scam unit.
How To Protect Yourself
There are ways you can protect against scammers. While businesses are targeted, consumers, the elderly, those who speak another language other than English as their primary language will be especially targeted.
Secure Your Computer
It pays to invest in a good quality malware package to protect your computer against viruses, Trojans and other malware. If your computer is infected, criminals can steal every piece of information you have on it. Your online purchases, paypal, bank details and passwords will all be targeted. Make sure your spy-wear is up to date and is constantly updating against the latest malware.
Make sure your computers firewall is turned on and that your wireless is encrypted with a strong password to avoid scammers accessing your network. Never use public wifi for any sort of financial transfer or to access sensitive information.
Never send sensitive information in an email. Basic email is not secure and can be tapped in by criminals.
Make sure your passwords are strong. Passwords that use a word, a family member’s name, sequential numbers or a dictionary word are easy to hack. If you use the same password for various sites that can be hacked, you’re asking for trouble. The key to a strong password in the length (the longer the better), a mix of letters using both upper and lower case, numbers and symbols. Use a password generator to generate a strong password if you can’t think up one yourself.
Store your password in an encrypted vault or password manager, or on a flash drive that cannot be accessed on your hard drive. You can also password protect sensitive documents for added security.
Use a Registered Tax Agent
A registered tax agent has gone through a stringent process of enrolment and learning to legally file tax returns. The ATO recommends the use of a registered tax agent when preparing a tax return to make sure all of your claims are done legally.
Covid-19 has brought a lot with it and scammers take every opportunity to use whatever is at hand. There has been a significant increase in Australians being targeted with COVID-19 scams, fraud attempts and deceptive emails and SMS messages.
If you have applied for the JobKeeper payment or early release of super, the ATO may contact you via SMS or email in these circumstances. If you’re unsure if the interaction is genuine, do not reply. Check first to see if it’s genuine by phoning your tax agent, or the ATO directly on 1800 008 540.
There is one golden rule to protect yourself from scammers: if it’s too good to be true, or if you are being pressured through fear, it probably is. Keep your wits about you this tax season and protect yourself against attempts at fraud. Scammers are out there, they are active and they change tactics constantly.
If you or anyone in your family has fallen victim to tax scams, speak to your ITP Tax Professional who will advise what you can do. ITP has helped Australian individuals and businesses for 50 years. Speak with an ITP Professional today.