Watch out for Scammers at Tax Time

tax timeThe Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and Australian Taxation Office (ATO) are warning consumers to watch out for scammers hiding behind tax time to target you.

“Scammers will go to great lengths to slip under your radar and steal your money, including impersonating ATO representatives on the phone, sending fraudulent emails and even creating bogus websites,” ACCC Acting Chair Delia Rickard warned.

“These fraudsters contact you out of the blue, claiming you have overpaid your tax and are now entitled to a refund. To obtain the refund, they ask you to first pay an ‘administration’ or ‘transfer’ fee. They may also ask for your financial details so they can transfer your “refund” to you. If you hand over money to these scammers, chances are you won’t see it again. If you incidentally give your personal details to a scammer, your bank accounts and identity could be at risk of fraud,” Ms Rickard said.

Since 1 March 2014 the ATO has seen a spike in reports from the public of email and phishing scams from 9,368 to 11,344 compared with the same period last year.

“Scammers are becoming more cunning in their attempts to defraud the public and trick them into handing over money, their TFN or personal information,” ATO Chief Technology Officer Todd Heather said.

“We encourage people to contact us if they are worried have fallen victim to a scam call, email, SMS or a face-to-face scam,” Mr Heather said.

From time-to-time the ATO will send taxpayers emails, SMS messages or official social media updates alerting them to new services. ATO messages will never request personal or financial information by SMS or email.

“It is important for consumers to keep their guard up as reclaim scams can be quite convincing,” Ms Rickard said.

“$300,000 has been reported lost to all reclaim scams to the ACCC this year and we have received 6,000 complaints. Of these, 270 people reported the tax reclaim scam to the ACCC with over $10,000 lost.”

Based on previous trends, Ms Rickard said the figure is likely to much higher in the second half of the year when tax season is under way.

“In making a first impression, the caller will claim to represent a government agency and may trick you by reciting a key piece of your personal or financial information,” Ms Rickard said.

“The catch is you will have to pay a tax or an administration fee of a few hundred dollars to release the money but the reality is government agencies will never contact you out of the blue via phone or email to ask you to pay upfront to claim an unexpected refund,”  Ms Rickard said.

PROTECT YOURSELF

  • Never share personal information, such as your TFN, myGov or bank account details on social media
  • Change any passwords you may have shared with family or friends
  • If you use a tax agent, make sure they are registered by checking at www.tpb.gov.au/onlineregister.
  • If you receive an email or phone call out of the blue from ‘the ATO’ claiming that you are entitled to a refund or asking you to confirm, update or disclose confidential details like your tax file number, press ‘delete’ or just hang up.
  • Don’t open any attachments or click on any links or reply to these emails. They may take you to a bogus website or contain a harmful virus.
  • If you’re not sure whether a call or email is a scam, verify who they are by using their official contact details to call them directly. Never use contact details provided by the caller – find them through an independent source such as a phone book or online search.
  • Always keep your computer security up to date with anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a good firewall. Only buy computer and anti-virus software from a reputable source.
  • Never send money or give your financial details to someone you don’t trust – it’s rare to recover money from a scammer.
  • If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.

If people receive a call from the ATO and are concerned about providing their personal information over the phone, they should ask for the caller’s name and phone them back through the ATO’s switchboard on 13 28 69.

You can forward suspect scams to ReportEmailFraud@ato.gov.au or call the ATO during business hours on 1800 060 062 to discuss a suspected scam.

You can also report scams to the ACCC via the SCAMwatch report a scam page or by calling 1300 795 995. Spread the word to your friends and family to help protect them. Further information is available on theScamwatch website.

To increase community awareness of scams the ATO has launched a new video campaign onato.gov.au/identitycrime with helpful tips to protect personal information.

Information on online security and scams can be found on the ATO website.

Stay one step ahead of scammers, follow @SCAMwatch_gov on Twitter.

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