Tax time: common scams to lookout for

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With the end of the financial year just around the corner, it’s time to be prepared for the influx of scam ATO emails, phone calls and text messages. So to keep your inbox and your money safe, here’s a rundown of scams that often do the rounds.

Firstly, why do people send scam email and texts? It’s usually driven by one of three hopeful outcomes:

  • to trick you into paying them money
  • to trick you into providing personal details that can be used fraudulently
  • to transfer some kind of malware or virus to your computer or phone.

Regardless of how official an email or a text message looks, or how vital a phone call sounds, it’s important to note that the ATO will never:

  • threaten you with immediate arrest
  • ask you to pay money before you can receive a refund or payment
  • pay a debt using iTunes vouchers, gift cards or pre-paid credit cards
  • provide any personal information via email or SMS
  • pay money into a personal bank account
  • ask you to download files or open attachments in unsolicited emails.

If you have been asked to make a payment, you should contact the ATO direct, or visit ATO.gov.au for details of how you may be asked by the ATO to make a payment.

Phone scams
It’s often the timing of scam phone calls purporting to be from the ATO that catch people out. You may just have submitted your tax return or received an annual statement from investments and it may seem perfectly natural that this will have triggered a call from the ATO. However, as noted above, the ATO will never contact you by phone to offer you a tax refund, nor will it threaten you with arrest over a tax debt.

Two of the more recent scams are that you are contacted regarding lost super or offering you assistance to reduce your tax as you’re approaching retirement.

If you receive any of these types of calls, do not give any information and advise the caller that you will make contact with the ATO direct. If you are given a number to call, don’t. Contact the ATO via its direct line – 1800 008 540.

Email scams
Emails are probably the most common way that scammers will try and trick you into divulging personal information or handing over money. If you receive an email, here are some of the indicators that it may not be genuine:

  • email not personalised (i.e. Dear taxpayer)
  • poor grammar and spelling
  • from a incorrect email address – ATO emails all include the domain ato.gov.au
  • links in the email
  • embedded attachments
  • requests personal identification documents to verify your identity
  • offers you an unexpected, usually large, refund
  • advises a refund will be paid to a credit card account – the ATO will only pay refunds to a verified bank account
  • requests personal detail in an online form, especially one not hosted on ATO.gov.au
  • asks you to provide credit card details, including CVN

These are just some of the indicators that an email may not genuinely be from the ATO. Scammers are becoming increasingly clever and as a result, the scams more sophisticated. For examples of some of the more common email scams, visit ATO.gov.au

If you receive an email that is not genuine or which you are unsure of, forward the email to [email protected]

SMS scams
The ATO may send you a text, however, this isn’t the common form of communication it uses. Never click on a link from an SMS claiming to be from the ATO and certainly never provide personal details by return SMS.

Some other scams to be on the lookout for

Door-to-door
The ATO will never send someone to your door to offer you a refund. Also, some training organisations will knock on your door and offer free gifts if you sign up there and then. You may be asked to provide your tax file number (TFN) – don’t – your TFN is not required to sign up for any education program. You may have to provide it if you are applying for HECS-HELP or FEE-HELP, but this will be done direct with the educational institution, not on your doorstep.

Applying for a job
When you apply for a job online, you do not need to give your TFN, your TFN is only required once you have started your employment. Also, your TFN should only be provided via an official tax file number declaration form.

If you think you have responded to scam email, call or SMS, you should contact scamwatch.gov.au. If you believe that a scammer has accessed your bank or credit card details, you should contact the financial institution immediately.

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Written by Debbie McTaggart

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