Over the past few years, more and more Australians have opted to do some or all their taxes online.
There are some huge advantages to this approach; you can save a lot of time sending documents electronically, there’s a clear digital trail of your activities, and you can typically gather up your tax return – or sort out any lingering tax debts – in a fraction of the time that it might take to process a paper-based tax return.
However, sadly where there’s money at play, there are scammers out there looking to score access to your money and your valuable personal information.
A lot of scammers, in fact, with the ATO reporting that in February 2022, it received 1,815 reports of scammers pretending to be from the tax department.
That’s undoubtedly the tip of the iceberg, as most people won’t bother to report scams if they don’t fall foul of them. As Australians ready to prepare their tax returns, the pressure will only intensify, and that can be seen from last year’s figures, where reported scam activity absolutely peaked around the June and July timeframes.
Scammers will attempt to gather in your information via some rudimentary methods, mostly designed to make you panic around a supposed debt or evasion. When you’re flustered or worried, you’re less likely to question someone claiming to be in a position of supposed authority.
So, what can you do to keep yourself safe while readying your tax affairs?
Never log into ATO services via an email or SMS link
Scammers will try to get you to log into a page that looks exactly like the myGov login portal. It will use the same images; the login field will look identical… but it’s a fake. By the time you realise it, the scammers will have your login details and password.
So how can you tell the fake from the real thing? You can check the URL field – that’s the address bar at the top of your browser – but the smarter way to approach this kind of thing is to realise that the ATO never includes a login link in any email or SMS. If you’re sent that kind of link, ignore it. If you’re concerned, make your own way to the MyGov portal from a web browser and log in there. If there’s a legitimate issue with the ATO, it will sit in your messages inbox within the MyGov portal.
Ignore pre-recorded messages or threats of arrest
This is classic scammer territory because you can’t argue with a recorded message, and many people will panic at the thought of being arrested for a tax debt they didn’t realise they had – because of course they don’t!
Don’t hand over personal information via email, even if it’s for a “refund”
Another tax scam variant is to suggest that you’re due a refund, sometimes for a significant amount. All you have to do is “update your financial information” via a linked form in the email.
This just simply isn’t how the ATO works, but it’s a common enough scam that can lure in the unwary who get dazzled by the dollar signs dangling in front of their eyes.
Again, if you’re due a refund there will be a clear trail of it within your online MyGov account page. If in doubt, look up the ATO contact details online – don’t use those provided in an SMS, email or phone call – and check with them that way.
The ATO doesn’t really care about Apple Gift Cards
This scam is so widespread, and so common that it’s commonly highlighted in stores where gift cards are sold. Anecdotally, I’ve been in more than one store where someone buying high value gift cards was asked by store staff if it was to pay a fake ATO “debt”.
The ATO is of course an arm of the Federal Government, and they’ve got no interest in being paid in gift cards, cryptocurrency or via a direct deposit to a personal bank account. If somebody claiming to be from the ATO demands payment in any of these ways, it’s a 100% clear indication of a scam.
If you’re wondering why the scammers want gift cards, it’s not because they want to then be nice to their nannas. It’s that a registered gift card becomes (in effect) untraceable money that they can then sell online in bulk. Even if it costs them a little to send out the card details to unwitting genuine consumers, they’re still in profit, and you have no way of getting your money back.
If you’re concerned that you may have been the victim of a tax scam, you can report it online to the ATO by calling 1800 008 540, or by emailing to ReportEmailFraud@ato.gov.au
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