It’s tax time for many Australians, with some of us dreading debts while others plan for what they’ll do with a refund. Before you reach that stage, however, you’ve got to file your actual tax return, and this is where many of us can come unstuck.
I’m not speaking here of the complexity of tax law, but instead the rising tide of scams designed to fool you into handing over your personal details and funds.
Technology has absolutely changed the way we file our taxes in Australia, and in many ways for the better. You can always employ the services of a qualified accountant to jump through the many obscure parts of tax law, but you’re also able to do so from the comfort of your own home online.
That’s a far cry from the days of having to file within business hours and on printed forms that did little to ease your confusion.
However, it’s also made it easier for unscrupulous types to try to panic taxpayers into handing over their personal details or money.
The ATO notes that it’s seen a recent surge in scam attempts using the WhatsApp platform, with those who receive a message being threatened with huge fines or even arrest if they don’t pay up immediately.
Quick tip here: The ATO isn’t on WhatsApp. Not even a teensy tiny bit.
I’ve not seen that one myself, but over the years I’ve certainly seen my fair share of dodgy scam attempts, from bogus NBN installer emails to tax “refund” messages via SMS.
There are a couple of very nasty ways these scams can sting you. Getting you to pay a “fine” that doesn’t exist is the most obvious, but even your personal details have plenty of value to scammers. They can use that detail to try to crack other accounts you may have, potentially obtain fraudulent identification documents, or simply sell onto other criminal types for that purpose.
So what should you look out for if you’re concerned?
Threats: Dealing with the ATO isn’t usually high on anyone’s list of favourite pastimes, but it’s simply a government department doing its job. That job typically doesn’t involve immediate threats of arrest or direct fines in most cases. It’s a very simply psychological trick designed to get you to panic, not think about what you’re doing and inadvertently reveal your valuable personal information.
Not knowing your details: The ATO has you on file as a taxpayer. Yes, if you contact them yourself, they’ll ask for identity verification to ensure that they’re talking to the right taxpayer. But if they call, text or email you, they should know exactly who they’re talking to. Don’t be fooled into providing scans of valuable documents, or even personal details like dates of birth. If you’re concerned that contact could be genuine, take notes and contact the ATO directly via its website. Never use the phone number or website provided in a contact email or call — grab it yourself to ensure it’s genuine.
Dodgy payment methods: The ATO is part of the Federal Goverment, which means it prefers payment in actual cash. Yes, that can be via an Internet transfer in this day and age, but never in any kind of cryptocurrency, or for that matter iTunes Gift Cards or similar. What exactly is the ATO meant to do with all that iTunes credit anyway? The reason that crooks like those kinds of payments is that they’re either tough to trace or easily onsold for actual money. Either way, you’re out of pocket.