Tax scam warning issued to consumers

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and Australian Taxation Office (ATO) are warning consumers and businesses to watch out for scammers hiding behind tax time to target you.

“Scammers will go to great lengths to slip under your radar and steal your money, including impersonating ATO representatives on the phone, sending fraudulent emails and even creating bogus websites,” ACCC Acting Chair Delia Rickard warned.

“These fraudsters contact you out of the blue, claiming you have overpaid your tax and are now entitled to a refund. To obtain the refund, they ask you to first pay an ‘administration’ or ‘transfer’ fee. They may also ask for your financial details so they can transfer your “refund” to you. If you hand over money to these scammers, chances are you won’t see it again. If you incidentally give your personal details to a scammer, your bank accounts and identity could be at risk of fraud,” Ms Rickard said.

Since 1 March 2014 the ATO has seen a spike in reports from the public of email and phishing scams from 9,368 to 11,344 compared with the same period last year.

“Scammers are becoming more cunning in their attempts to defraud the public and trick them into handing over money, their TFN or personal information,” ATO Chief Technology Officer Todd Heather said.

“We encourage people to contact us if they are worried have fallen victim to a scam call, email, SMS or a face-to-face scam,” Mr Heather said.

From time-to-time the ATO will send taxpayers emails, SMS messages or official social media updates alerting them to new services. ATO messages will never request personal or financial information by SMS or email.

“It is important for consumers to keep their guard up as reclaim scams can be quite convincing,” Ms Rickard said.

“$300,000 has been reported lost to all reclaim scams to the ACCC this year and we have received 6,000 complaints. Of these, 270 people reported the tax reclaim scam to the ACCC with over $10,000 lost.”

Based on previous trends, Ms Rickard said the figure is likely to much higher in the second half of the year when tax season is under way.

“In making a first impression, the caller will claim to represent a government agency and may trick you by reciting a key piece of your personal or financial information,” Ms Rickard said.

“The catch is you will have to pay a tax or an administration fee of a few hundred dollars to release the money but the reality is government agencies will never contact you out of the blue via phone or email to ask you to pay upfront to claim an unexpected refund,”  Ms Rickard said.

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