The Sydney Morning Herald reported back in December that $830,000 (at this point, undoubtedly more) has been lost by taxpayers to convincing tax scams. While scams are often also conducted through email and letter, these current scams are conducted by phone, with the scammers likely originating far outside of Australia. In December, they mainly seemed to be using various apps or related methods to effectively spoof phone numbers associated with the ATO. These callers would then trick taxpayers into providing their personal information, and ultimately their money, by threatening them with arrest and other scare tactics.
Now, the ATO is warning that these scammers are sending equally convincing text messages requesting personal information in exchange for an unclaimed tax refund. The most common of these messages asks taxpayers to click a link in the message and provide their tax or financial information. They may also be asked to download or open something from the message. This is made all the more confusing by the fact that the ATO does send out reminder messages regarding taxes; but there are key differences between the ATO messages and the messages being sent by the scammer.
Not Sure If It’s Really the ATO? Signs of a Scammer
The ATO does conduct business through letter, phone, email, and even text messages, but there are certain things that the ATO will never do — things that can help you to differentiate between a fake scam text, for instance, and a legitimate correspondence from the ATO.
The ATO doesn’t ask you to click links to websites, open files, or download items. The most likely text from the ATO will simply remind you to login to your myGov account— without offering any sort of link to click through. Another easy red flag? Being asked to visit a website that sounds similar to the ATO, but is clearly not the ATO’s website. Either way, no matter how convincing, never click through any link in a text message that claims to be related to your personal information or finances.
The ATO will not demand payment of a tax bill in bizarre or unusual ways, such as through iTunes, prepaid gift cards, or money sent directly to a bank account that is not affiliated with the Reserve Bank of Australia. They also won’t insist upon a payment in exchange for a refund.
The ATO will not use threatening language with you, such as threatening to arrest you for non-payment of a tax bill. Their contact also won’t have a weird sense of urgency, like demanding payment today. Scammers often use such tactics to scare you into providing your financial information.
The ATO has said that calls from them will not actually display a phone number.
When In Doubt, Call the ATO and Check with Your Tax Preparer
If you receive a text, phone call, email, or letter that doesn’t feel quite right, especially if you weren’t expecting correspondence from the ATO, don’t let any scare tactics stop you from doing your research. Don’t call or text back the phone number and don’t respond to the address in the email or letter, even if it appears as though it’s from the ATO. Instead, do the following:
Keep the suspicious email in your inbox (but don’t click any links or respond), and forward it to the ATO at ReportEmailFraud@ato.gov.au
Call the ATO directly at 1800 008 540 during business hours (Monday through Friday, 8am to 6pm). Speak with them about any contact you’ve received and let them confirm if this was or was not a legitimate contact from the ATO and give you further instruction.
Check the ATO website for legitimate ways to pay due taxes.
Stay informed of your financial situation by actively visiting your MyGov account and discussions with your accountant. Your accountant, as well as the ATO website, can help you stay alert and aware of scams.
If you or someone you know has fallen victim to a scam, phone the police and provide detailed information regarding the correspondence received.
If you’re in need of an accountant, bookkeeper, or even just business advice, TCA Darwin will work closely with you on all of these needs, so that you can feel confident that your information is secure, protected, and completely in order. Schedule an appointment online to speak with one of our skilled professionals.