The Australian Taxation Office has warned of a massive rise in scammers pretending to be the tax authority to rob Australians, and called for vigilance as “tax season” starts at the end of the month.
“We have already seen a five-fold increase in scams from January to May this year and typically expect further increases during the tax time period,” ATO assistant commissioner Kath Anderson said.
Already this year 17,067 scams had been reported, with 113 people handing over actual money to a scammer believing they were paying owed tax. Another 2,500 people handed over private information, including tax file numbers, to criminals pretending to be the ATO.
In total, scammers have managed to harvest $1.5 million this year but one unlucky Australian “lost $900,000 to scammers over the course of several months, even borrowing money from family and friends,” according to Anderson.
“The large number of people lodging their tax returns means scammers are particularly active, so it’s important to keep an eye out for anything that looks suspicious and protect your private information.”
Some scammers have become increasingly sophisticated in imitating the tax office, including projecting a legitimate ATO telephone number on caller ID as they ring potential victims.
“While we do make thousands of calls per week to the community, our outbound calls do not project numbers on caller ID. If one appears, it’s most likely a scam,” Anderson said.
“People should be wary of emails, phone calls and SMS during tax time that claim to be from the ATO, even if it seems legitimate. If you’re ever unsure about whether a call, text message or email is genuine, call us on 1800 008 540. If it’s real, we will connect you with the right area of the ATO.”
To prevent becoming a victim, the tax office reminded taxpayers to keep five points in mind:
1. Be aware of what you share
You should only share your personal information with people you trust and organisations with a legitimate need for it.
2. Stay secure
Keep your mobile devices and computers secure by changing your passwords regularly, keep your anti-virus, malware, and spyware protection software up-to-date and don’t click on suspicious links.
3. Don’t reply
Don’t reply to any SMS or email with your personal or financial information.
4. Recognise a scam
If someone asks you for your bank account or personal details, or demands money, refunds or free gifts, be cautious. Also avoid requests in emails or SMS requesting you to click on a link to log onto government or banking digital services.
5. Report scams
If you think you or someone you know might have been contacted by a scammer, or have fallen victim to a tax-related scam, contact the ATO on 1800 008 540.