Jul 7, 2024

Tax time scams: be on guard

As tax time approaches, reports of ATO impersonation scams are on the rise. Taxpayers should continue to exercise vigilance and think carefully before acting on any unsolicited contact from entities purporting to be the ATO. “Scammers aren’t mugs, they’re cunning criminals who adapt and change their tactics and we need to be able to do the same.” – Stephen Jones MP, Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services. 

The Government has recently announced that the National Anti-Scam Centre (NASC) will join a cutting-edge intelligence exchange between Australian banks, telcos, digital platforms and the Australian Financial Crimes Exchange (AFCX). The AFCX intel loop enables near real-time data sharing between participants about the latest tactics and tools used by scammers, and the new partnership will increase the capacity to disrupt and intercept scammer contact with consumers and help to identify and take down scammer websites. The creation of NASC, funding for ASIC and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to take down fake investment websites, and establishing the SMS Sender ID register to stop scammers from spoofing trusted brand names have already had some success: over 5,000 website takedowns occurred and 100 million scam text messages were blocked in the final quarter of 2023. However, the lead-up to tax time still poses a risk – updated figures for May 2024 by the ATO show a 31% increase in reports from the previous month for ATO impersonation scams across SMS, email, phone contact and social media channels. The ATO is working on preventative measures to help the community to recognise legitimate ATO SMS interactions. 

As of January 2024, the ATO has been in the process of removing hyperlinks from all its outbound unsolicited SMSs by Tax Time 2024. Cybercriminals often use hyperlinks in SMS phishing scams, directing individuals to highly sophisticated websites – for example a fake myGov login page – in order to steal personal information or install malware. The ATO has a dedicated team to monitor for scams and to assist taxpayers who have fallen prey to scammers, and provides detailed information about email and SMS scams, phone scams and social media scams on the ATO website. 

The ATO also offers a reporting service where people can report an ATO impersonation scam if they encounter one. People and businesses should exercise caution and be vigilant in protecting their personal information, and recognise some of the common warning signs of an attempted scam: the ATO will sometimes contact a taxpayer by phone, email, SMS or post to advise of suspicious activity on an account but will never ask for personal information to be provided through these channels; the ATO will never send an email or unsolicited SMS with a hyperlink or QR code prompting a login to online services; calls from the ATO show as “No Caller ID” and not a number, and the ATO will never threaten a taxpayer with arrest or make a conference call with a third-party claiming to be law enforcement; demand immediate payment while on the line; send unsolicited pre-recorded voice messages; ask for fees for refunds; threaten to cancel a TFN; or request payment via Apple or Google Play gift cards, cryptocurrency or cash; and the ATO will never use a social media platform (eg Facebook, Instagram, X or LinkedIn) to contact a taxpayer directly to discuss their personal ATO account. If a taxpayer receives an unsolicited contact from the ATO and is unsure if it is legitimate, they should not reply but instead contact the ATO directly to verify the details. If a scam is identified they should report the scam through one of the ATO’s specific reporting avenues.

Speak to one of our accountants if you have any questions about the changes in tax for 2024.