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COVID-19 stimulus fraudsters targeting small businesses

Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
21 May 2020 1 minute readShare
fraudsters

A growing number of fraudsters are posing as tax experts, providing misleading advice and support relating to COVID-19 stimulus benefits, including both the JobKeeper and cash-boost initiatives.

The Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) has issued a warning to small businesses, urging them to take extra care when seeking assistance in accessing the government’s COVID-19 stimulus measures.

According to the TPB, a growing number of complaints and intelligence about fraudsters posing as tax experts, providing misleading advice and support relating to COVID-19 stimulus benefits have been identified.  

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These arrangements are often promoted through social media channels, claiming to offer advice and support along with unnecessary services in a subscription or locked-in contract, with some involving businesses with thousands of clients.

The TPB cautioned that organisations involved may claim that the advice being provided is “assured” by a registered tax agent, when in fact it could be incorrect and breach the Tax Agent Services Act (TASA).

 

“We are investigating organisations operating in this way to establish how, and which, services are being provided and whether they are in contravention of the law,” said TPB chair Ian Klug.

Often, businesses entering such agreements are asked to provide personal or confidential information including tax file numbers or myGovID logins, the TPB warned, noting that it is prioritising investigations into this area.

“We are concerned about protecting the consumers of taxation services as we know the accuracy of the advice given by unregistered agents is not reliable and there is no safe way to ‘assure’ advice by an unregistered tax adviser simply by involving a registered agent on the fringe of the business,” Mr Klug said.  

Incorrect advice, he warned, may prevent the full amount of the benefit from reaching its intended recipients.

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“Also, incorrectly received benefits may have to be repaid and recipients may be liable for penalties and interest.’”

The TPB urged businesses to check whether their tax practitioner is registered on the public register at www.tpb.gov.au/onlineregister and follow the TPB’s tips when seeking taxation or COVID-19 stimulus advice.

“If you are not a registered practitioner and your business is engaged in providing advice or services related to any of the COVID-19 stimulus benefits such as JobKeeper, cash boost or early release from super, you are in breach of the TASA and may be liable for a civil penalty imposed by the Federal Court,” Mr Klug added.

He further advised any small business or individual unwittingly caught up in unfair contracts with businesses offering “assured” tax services to seek legal advice.

If you become aware of a potential scam or unregistered tax practitioner, report the situation to the TPB either by email or by calling 1300 362 829.

COVID-19 stimulus fraudsters targeting small businesses
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Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
Maja Garaca Djurdjevic

Maja Garaca Djurdjevic is the editor of My Business. 

Maja has a decade-long career in journalism across finance, business and politics. Now a well-versed reporter in the SME and accounting arena, prior to joining Momentum Media, Maja reported for several established news outlets in Southeast Europe, scrutinising key processes in post-conflict societies and enabling citizens to influence decision-making.

You can email Maja on [email protected] 

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