Australian taxpayers have lost over $2 million to tax scams so far this year, prompting a warning from the ATO about falling victim as payment deadlines loom for tax bills.
“So far this year, 622 people paid over $2.1 million to scammers impersonating the ATO,” assistant commissioner Karen Foat revealed.
“We see these ATO impersonation scams by phone, email, SMS and even through message apps such as WhatsApp.”
Ms Foat said that of particular concern is the level of sophistication being demonstrated by scammers and ATO impersonators.
“They are getting better at impersonating large organisations and ramp up in periods where people expect to hear from us, to make their threats appear more legitimate.”
As such, she is warning Australians who have a tax bill becoming payable to be alert to bogus communications purporting to be from the Tax Office, suggesting that scammers are taking advantage of these payment deadlines.
“While some taxpayers will have tax payments due from November, the ATO will always let you know how much you owe and the due date when we send your notice of assessment,” Ms Foat said.
“If you’re unsure, you can check if you have a legitimate debt anytime by logging into your myGov account, or by contacting us or your tax agent.”
The assistant commissioner said that the ATO’s efforts to highlight tax-related scams “have paid off”, noting that while the number of people reporting scams has risen over the past year, fewer people are now being duped out of money.
“But any money going to scammers is too much,” she said.
“We’ve also recently spotted scammers using the cardless cash feature offered by many banks. Through this feature, victims are sent codes to withdraw cash from an ATM, which they then read out to the scammer.
“One Sydneysider was duped out of $500 through this tactic. After a client alerted him that he was scammed, he reported the incident to us.”
Ms Foat added that both SMS and email-based scams saw a noticeable spike in October ahead of the tax return lodgement deadline, which she said “usually contain links to fake online services to get personal information that enables scammers to steal your identity”.
The ATO has urged all taxpayers to be alert to rude or aggressive behaviour; threats of immediate arrest, deportation or jail; links demanding log-in to a government service or requests for payment via various suspicious means, including gift cards, cardless cash, prepaid cards, cryptocurrency or direct credit to personal bank accounts.
It follows reports in October of an Adelaide couple being visited at their home by two men impersonating federal police with an EFTPOS machine demanding payment for a tax debt.
Scams can be reported to the ATO on 1800 008 540 or via its online scam portal.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.