The deadline for Australians to complete their 2020 tax returns is just around the corner, and scammers are making the most of taxpayers’ desperation to steal their identities and money.
Also read: CommBank warns of huge increase in scams
The Australian Tax Office issued an alert in English, Nepali, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Spanish, Korean and Farsi on Friday urging the community to be wary of a number of scams targeting vulnerable Australians.
“With only days left before individual tax returns must be lodged, the ATO is concerned about the increasing number of people being tricked by scammers,” it said in a statement. The tax deadline is 31 October for those who haven’t engaged an agent.
“Scammers will target unsuspecting people at this time of year and will try to trick you into paying them money for a fake tax debt [and] giving them your personal information.”
And, the ATO warned, scammers who know enough about your online identity can claim government benefits under your name, access your super, take out loans and lodge false tax returns.
How to spot a tax scam
The ATO said that while scams are notoriously tricky to spot, there are some clear red flags.
The first one is if an email, text or social media message is unexpected, it’s good to be cautious - especially if the email asks you to provide identity documents or to click a link.
Similarly, no job should ask for your tax file number as part of an application process, nor should online ads ask for your personal information.
The ATO will also never contact an Australian and demand immediate payment in unusual forms, like gift cards or cryptocurrency.
Additionally, the ATO will not threaten arrest if they don’t receive immediate payment, or be generally abusive or threatening.
Personal details you should never give away to scammers
Taxpayers should think twice before sharing your tax file number, myGov details and passwords, credit card and bank details and driver’s licence and passport details.
Additionally, scammers can make the most of victims’ full name, date of birth and current address if those details are combined with other details.
Scammers on the rise
Australians reported 5,421 phishing scams in September - the highest number of these scams since the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission began recording these scams in 2017.
Phishing scams entice victims into passing over personal details by pretending to be respected groups like the ATO or Australia Post.
Digital security firm Avast has also found that half of Australians have encountered a phishing scam this year. The most common phishing scams are email scams, followed by phone call and text scams.
“People most often encounter phishing in the form of fraudulent emails, which attackers send out in order to direct users to a fraudulent website, where they then try to obtain as much personal data from them as possible or under false pretence to wheedle money from them,” said Alexej Savcin, Avast Malware analyst.
“Phishing attacks can appear very trustworthy, and attackers often disguise them as emails from a bank or messages from someone the user knows personally. In connection with the corona-crisis, we even noticed phishing emails offering people protective medical supplies.”
Echoing the ATO, Savcin said Australians need to practice constant vigilance when it comes to their email inbox.
That means taking a good look at the sender’s email address to see if there are any odd signs like spelling errors or even an email address that has nothing to do with the business or group they claim to be representing.
He said there’s one other golden rule: if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. That means if the ATO is offering a bigger refund, or Australia Post is saying you have a valuable delivery waiting for you that you don’t remember ordering, alarm bells should be ringing.
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