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Tax scams

17/07/2020

An overview of tax scams and how to recognise them.

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A tax scam is an impersonation hoax where someone pretends to be from the tax office and tries to trick you into paying money or giving up personal information.

Tax scams are on the rise in Australia, and Scamwatch is warning taxpayers to be aware of how these scammers work.

Here is an overview of tax scams, and how you can recognise them and protect your finances and personal information.

An overview of tax scams

These types of scams can take a number of forms, for example:

  • Demanding you pay tax debts you may not know about
  • Threatening you with jail or arrest if you don’t pay up immediately
  • Offering you a tax refund in exchange for a fee
  • Asking for personal information, such as your bank login or credit card details.

The most common contact method is phone calls, followed by email and SMS. Other methods include mail, in-person contact and mobile apps.

Scammers can also ask for payments in unusual ways – such as by cryptocurrency or purchase of gift or iTunes cards. 

How to recognise tax scams

Scammers are clever and go to pains to look or sound like legitimate authorities. However, there are a few tell-tale signs:

  • For phone calls, a phone number is often displayed. The ATO says it does not use caller ID or make numbers visible in this way.
  • The calls may be in person, or through a robot-voice asking for a call back to a non-ATO number. Callers often sound rude or aggressive, threatening arrest (or deportation in some cases) for non-payment. The ATO does not use these methods.
  • For emails, senders may use a domain that can look like the ATO’s but is slightly different – such as “ato.com.au” rather than the correct “ato.gov.au”.
  • Demand for payment is immediate, often using the unusual methods mentioned above. Scammers could also ask you to pay into accounts with BSB numbers that don't belong to the ATO.
  • In some cases, scammers will tell you that you have a tax refund. The ATO never advises of tax refunds this way.
  • The scammers may ask for financial or personal information or your tax file number. This is not something the ATO will do.

The ATO says it does sometimes use email and SMS to make contact, but it will provide an ATO phone number for return calls or instruct you to use your myGov account.

Tips for avoiding tax scam phone calls, emails or texts

If you get a suspect phone call, you should:

  • Avoid engaging in conversation
  • Hang up quickly
  • Block the number if you can.

For any emails or text messages regarding your taxes that sound threatening or that ask you to click on a link:

  • Do not respond
  • Do not open any attachments or click on links provided
  • Forward emails to the tax office
  • Block the sender and delete the email or message.

Not sure if you're the victim of a scam?

If you are not sure whether a call or email you have received is a scam attempt, you can contact the ATO to find out.

What to do if you have fallen victim to a scam

If you suspect a scam, you can:

  • Forward suspect emails toreportascam@servicesaustralia.gov.au
  • Report a scam on Scamwatch
  • Call the police if you have made payments
  • Contact the ATO’s Client Identity line on 1800 467 033 if you’ve handed over your tax file number to someone
  • Contact your bank if you have provided financial information. Your bank should be able to cancel your credit cards and provide new ones or give you a new online login or password.

How you can protect your information

Being aware is only part of the battle as you also need to be proactive in protecting your information. Here are some tips:

  • Protect your bank accounts by regularly changing your password on your online banking
  • Use myGov to monitor your tax account
  • Maintain regular contact with your tax agent if you have one
  • Avoid sharing personal information with anyone you don’t know.

Tax scams are not the only threat

There are many other types of scams to watch out for. These include:

  • Employment tax scams – such as unrealistic job offers in exchange for a fee
  • Overseas scams – where scammers try to con you into providing private information or money in exchange for large amounts of cash
  • Dating scams – where scammers use social media or websites to feign romantic interest so they can defraud you.

You can also take action to help protect others from scams. This includes sharing your experiences, reporting scam attempts, and warning relatives or friends (especially those that may not be very internet savvy) about suspicious emails or calls going around.

This article is intended to provide general information of an educational nature only. Information in this article is current as at the date of publication. Any links to third party websites are for your information only.

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