ATO crackdown on COVID payments

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has announced that it is zeroing in on fraud and schemes designed to take advantage of the government’s COVID-19 stimulus packages, including the early release of superannuation and JobKeeper payments.

ATO deputy commissioner Will Day said that with so many Australians affected by COVID-19, it was important to ensure payments got to those who need them.

“We know the overwhelming majority of Australians are honest, and we’ve worked hard to help those people who are impacted by COVID-19 as quickly as possible,” Mr Day said.

“We also have an important role to ensure the integrity of the stimulus measures and when we uncover fraud or people seeking to exploit them, we’ll take action, as we know the community would expect us to do.”

The ATO stated that it would use income tax returns, information provided from super funds, payroll information and other information from third party sources to assess the risk on inappropriate behaviour.

The ATO stressed that it would not tolerate illegal behaviour or development of schemes that are designed to deliberately exploit these measures, seek to avoid tax, or prey on vulnerable Australians.

The agency has already seen some examples of fraud and fraudulent attempts or people developing schemes to try to steal money from the community.

“We’ve received intelligence about a number of dodgy schemes, including the withdrawal of money from superannuation and recontributing it to get a tax deduction,” Mr Day said. “Not only is this not in the spirit of the measure (which is designed to assist those experiencing hardship), severe penalties can be applied to tax avoidance schemes or those found to be breaking the law.

“If someone recommends something like this that seems too good to be true, well, it probably is,” Mr Day said.

Penalties for fraud can include financial penalties, prosecution, and imprisonment for the most serious cases.

“It’s important to carefully check eligibility requirements before applying for any of the measures,” Mr Day said. “Eligibility requirements for each of the measures are outlined on the ATO’s website. If you’re not sure, the best thing to do is check with the ATO or your tax professional.

“Our tax system works on a self-assessment model. We will generally operate on the basis Australians are honest, meaning we will accept the information we are provided with as true and correct and make payments,” he said.

“However, we will be conducting checks later, so if you’ve received a benefit as part of the COVID-19 stimulus measures and we discover you are ineligible, you can expect to hear from us. If you think this may apply to you, you should contact us or speak to your tax professional,” Mr Day said.

“It is much better to come forward to make a voluntary disclosure than waiting to be audited. If in doubt on how to proceed, we recommend seeking the advice of a tax professional.”

Mr Day also reminded the community to protect their identities and be vigilant of scammers at this time.

“If you receive a text message or email stating that your myGov details have been changed, or that you have applied for early release of super and you have not, don’t ignore these messages: check your myGov, call the ATO or your super fund to make sure your identity has not been compromised. But don’t click on any links – one technique used by scammers to steal your information is to mock-up messages which appear to be from the ATO,” Mr Day said.

Behaviours that attract the ATO’s attention in relation to the early release of superannuation measure include:

– applying when there is no change to your regular salary, wage, or employment information
– artificially arranging your affairs to meet the eligibility criteria
– making false statements or fraudulent attempts to meet the eligibility criteria
– withdrawing and recontributing super for a tax advantage – this could not only trigger anti-avoidance rules but also result in additional taxes and affect your eligibility for a super co-contribution.

Is the ATO doing enough to stop scammers stealing people’s super through the early release scheme? Are you worried about your super being safe?

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Written by Ben Hocking

Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.

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