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Protect your money: The 2019 tax time scams you need to watch out for

The scams you need to be wary for tax time in 2019. Don't let your tax return fall into the wrong hands. (Photo: Getty)

It’s tax time, which means you’re likely looking forward to seeing that neat sum of money in your bank account – but cyber criminals want it for themselves.

With tax time comes a rise of scams that have been circulating as early as March, with scammers often pretending to be from official-sounding organisations, like the Australian Taxation Office, to scare you into handing over your personal and banking details.

Here are some key tax scams circulating recently that you need to know about:

myGov scam

In late March, the ATO sounded the alert on a scam email that pretended to be from myGov, Australia’s official online government service platform, asking the recipient to fill out a fake application form for a ‘tax refund’.

Here’s what the email looks like:

(Source: ATO)

Safety tip: The ATO doesn’t have an online tax refund form; you’ll have to lodge your tax return through myTax, which is available through the real myGov. Find out more about this scam.

‘Pay your debt, or risk arrest’

Aussies were warned in early April that scammers were calling and pretending to be from the ATO to demand immediate payment for alleged ‘outstanding debts’ or risk arrest.

These scammers are getting more sophisticated, too: they have technology that manipulates the calls to look as though they’re coming from the legitimate ATO phone number.

By April alone, more than $1 million has been lost to these scams, pointing to the significant financial loss experienced by Aussies falling for such scams.

Safety tip: If they become rude or aggressive on the phone, that’s a surefire sign it’s a scammer. The ATO doesn’t show caller ID, nor demand immediate payment through unusual methods like Bitcoin or gift cards. Here’s more about how this scam works.

‘Shipments in transit’

Also in early April, email security provider MailGuard raised the alarm on another email scam spoofing as the ATO that asked recipients for “verification” on “attached Tax documents”.

Here’s what the scam looks like:

(Source: MailGuard)

Attached is a PDF document that aims to appear authentic by including the ATO logo and a Norton logo.

(Source: MailGuard)

A link the PDF then takes you to a fake page with the ATO logo tiled as the background, and looks like this:

(Source: MailGuard)

Unsuspecting victims who plug in their ATO log-in details have had them stolen.

Safety tip: Under no circumstances should you open any attachments or click any links. Forward them onto the ATO at ReportEmailFraud@ato.gov.au, and then delete the email from your inbox and sent folder.

Fake tax refund texts

Scammers are well aware it’s tax time, and they’re doing their utmost to take advantage of it. This scam comes in the form of a text that looks as though it’s from the ATO, and reads like this:

“You are due for a refund of $2675.51. Visit www.atoreclaim.com and logon with your phone number and ATO PIN to claim.”

Safety tip: Simple: Don’t click the link. The real taxman won’t send you an email or text asking you to access your online services through a hyperlink; it’ll all be through the legitimate myGov platform. There’s more information about this fake text scam here.

WhatsApp scam

This is the latest scam the ATO is sounding the alarm on, and is the latest twist to the ‘pay your debt or risk arrest’ scam.

Scammers are using the popular Whatsapp messaging app to impersonate the ATO and demand payment, as well as a photo of their drivers’ license, passport, or other ID. Read more about this scam here.

Safety tip: Just don’t fall for it – the ATO doesn’t have a WhatsApp account, and won’t engage with you through that platform.

These are the things the real ATO would NEVER do:

  • Threaten you with arrest;

  • Demand immediate payment, and especially not through unusual means such as Bitcoin, pre-paid credit cards or gift cards;

  • Insist you stay on the line until a payment is made;

  • Ask you to pay debt into a bank account that’s not held by the Reserve Bank of Australia;

  • Send pre-recorded voice messages to your phone;

  • Refuse to allow you to speak with a trusted adviser or your tax agent;

  • Conference call and include a third party, such as your tax agent or law enforcement;

  • Present a phone number on caller ID;

  • Have an online ‘Tax Refund’ form through a hyperlink;

  • Send you emails with poor grammar or spelling, and are suspiciously missing your name;

  • Send you emails that aren’t from a legitimate @ato.gov.au address;

  • Send you texts asking for personal information, such as your tax file number or credit card details; and

  • Send emails with attachments or fake links asking you to lodge a form – these attachments or links can lead to malware or ransomware being downloaded to your device.

Will the real ATO please stand up?

Here are the ATO’s real details, so you never need to be confused:

  • ATO website: ato.gov.au

  • ATO scam reporting hotline: 1800 008 540

  • myGov: my.gov.au

How to report a scam

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