Operation Protego was set up after a spike in false refunds involving fake businesses, with the ATO suspecting as many as 40,000 people involved with an average claim of $20,000 apiece.
“The ATO is warning the community not to engage with this fraud and for participants to come forward before we take tougher action,” the ATO said.
“Sophisticated risk models deployed by the ATO coupled with intelligence received from banks, including through the AUSTRAC-led Fintel Alliance and the Reserve Bank of Australia, identified a recent spike in suspicious refunds.
“We are working with financial institutions who have frozen suspected fraudulent amounts in bank accounts. The ATO has also stopped many more attempted frauds.”
The ATO said the fraud had involved offenders inventing fake businesses and ABN applications, many in their own names, then submitting fictitious business activity statements in an attempt to gain GST refunds.
One recent case involved a former swimming teacher who attempted to claim $278,000 in fake GST refunds and was sentenced to three years in jail.
The ATO was also working closely with law enforcement agencies to prioritise criminal action against those who have established and induced participation in the fraud.
ATO Deputy Commissioner and Chief of the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce, Will Day, said information on how to attempt the fraud was being shared online, including via social media platforms.
“We are working with social media platforms to help remove content promoting this fraud, but if you see something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Mr Day said.
“The people who have participated in this fraud are not anonymous. We know who they are, and we will be taking action.