The Australian Taxation Office is warning tax-payers to stay alert to online scams, or other unusual activity as tax returns gain momentum this month.
Facing a flurry of tax returns during July-August, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is alerting citizens to be on the look-out for online scams, unusual emails, phone calls or other suspicious activity.
The ATO’s Assistant Commissioner, Graham Whyte, has warned that scammers are especially active during tax time. This stems from the larger number of people lodging their tax returns during a busy period.
The last few years has seen a significant increase in the number of scams being reported to the ATO. Different types of approaches are now used by fraudsters, increasingly in an online environment.
During January to May 2016, the ATO received over 40,500 phone scam reports. Of these, 226 Australians handed over $1.2 million to fraudsters and over 1900 gave out some form of personal information, including tax file numbers.
Scams on the increase
Last year, almost 87,000 phone and email scams were reported to the ATO. This marked an increase of over 90 per cent from 2014.
Commissioner Whyte noted that most people can identify scams. However, they need to be especially diligent during tax return times.
“Most Australians are pretty good at catching fraudsters in the act,” he said.
“This is clear from the amount of scams reported to us compared to the number of people handing over money and personal information.”
In an online or mobile environment, citizens need to stay vigilant, while protecting their personal information and keeping this private.
During tax return time, the ATO makes thousands of outbound calls to taxpayers each week. But there are some key differences between a legitimate call from the ATO and a call from a potential scammer.
Aggressive calls raise red flags
Among the red flags, the ATO would never cold call citizens about a debt.
‘We would never threaten jail or arrest, and our staff certainly wouldn’t behave in an aggressive manner. If you’re not sure, hang up and call us back on 1800 008 540,” Commissioner Whyte said.
“Lately, we have 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 purchased 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.”
While the ATO communicates with people via bulk email, it would never request personal details, such as banking information.
“If such personal details were required, you would be redirected to ATO Online services, he said”
For information on how to verify or report a scam, visit: How to verify or report a scam, visit the ATO website.