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The ‘appalling’ scam targeting Aussies’ generosity

Scammers are posing as charities. Images: Getty

The 31 October tax return deadline is also the deadline for the “army of scammers” looking to defraud Australians.

Between July and August, nearly $190,000 was paid to scammers the Australian Tax Office (ATO) has revealed.

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But there’s one “particularly appalling” scam currently doing the rounds, and it’s preying on Aussies’ generosity.

“Australians are very generous, donating billions each year to thousands of different charities. Unfortunately scammers are increasingly using people’s generosity against them by setting up fake charities to fleece them,” the deputy chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Delia Rickard said.

“This is a particularly appalling scam as beyond just stealing money from unsuspecting victims, the scammers also take money meant for legitimate charities. Donations are the lifeblood that supports charities and their ability to help people in need.”

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This week is Charity Fraud Awareness Week and the ACCC’s Scamwatch unit is warning Australians to be on the lookout for these scams.

What does the scam look like?

Losses from charity scams have steadily increased over the last four years, with scammers using a range of different approaches.

For example, scammers may pretend to be charity collectors or may set up fake websites which look similar to real charities.

“Fake charity approaches occur all year round and often take the form of a response to real disasters or emergencies, such as floods, cyclones, earthquakes and bushfires.

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“The ACCC has seen horrific examples of charity scammers taking advantage of high profile tragedies like the Black Saturday bushfires and following last year’s Bourke Street tragedy. We’ve also seen some recent examples of charity scammers using the current drought to rip off people,” Rickard said.

“The scammers have no shame. If they’re not creating fake charities, they will impersonate real ones like the Red Cross, RSPCA, or Rural Fire Service.”

That’s bad. How can I protect myself?

A good tip is to check the charity is legitimate by looking up their credentials on the publicly available Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) website.

Charities do employ door-knockers and street collectors, but Aussie donors shouldn’t be shy about asking for identification and follow-up questions about how the money will be used.

“If you have any doubts about who they are, do not pay, go the charity’s legitimate website and pay through there.” Rickard said.

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“Also, avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency, like Bitcoin. Legitimate charities don’t solicit donations in this way.”

Scammers’ favourite time of year

It’s peak season for the “army of scammers”, tax communications director at H&R Block, Mark Chapman said.

“Tax scams can take many forms and new ones emerge all the time. The latest involves the fraudsters initiating a three-way telephone conversation between the scammer, the victim, and another scammer impersonating the victim’s tax agent,” he added.

Scammers posing as the ATO are also stinging Aussies by sending through emails asking victims to click on a link to access further details about a debt or refund.

“That one click can lead to disaster, allowing the scammers to access your computer system and potentially hold you or your business to ransom,” Chapman said.

“Fake phone calls continue to proliferate, with rude, aggressive callers claiming to be from the ATO threatening taxpayers with arrest and even jail if they fail to pay non-existent tax debts, often by unconventional means such as iTunes vouchers.”

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If you think you’ve been targeted, you should hang up if the scammers are operating over the phone and avoid clicking any suspicious links.

It’s also a good idea to forward the email to ReportEmailFraud@ato.gov.au and call the ATO to check the contact is genuine, Chapman added.