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Avoid Being Scammed at Tax Time

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With tax time comes the inevitable procrastination about emptying that shoe box and booking to see your accountant, as well as… the potential to become a victim of tax time scams.  

A new financial year often brings with it new financial goals (and expenses), potential investment opportunities as well a fresh opportunity to reflect back on the last 12 months and assess your personal financial situation and earnings. It’s also time to start thinking about our tax.

You might think you’d never fall victim to an ATO or other type of scam, but plenty of people have, in fact , in 2017 alone the ATO received 81,000 reports of scam attempts. An even scarier statistic was revealed in the ACCC’s ninth annual targeting scams report released this May which reported that Aussies lost more money to scammers last year than in any previous year since the ACCC began reporting on scam activity. The figure? $340 million...in one year.  

Unfortunately tax time is seen by some as an opportunity to take unsuspecting people for a ride. There are a host of phishing scams being emailed out across the country this time of the year.  With the intention of stealing people’s personal details, scams often using the logos and emaill signatures mimicking the ATO’s or other government departments such as Medicare. It’s important to know that the ATO would never actually ask you for your Tax File Number or your bank details. via SMS or email. Phishing scams send you to fake pages where you are invited to enter in your personal details where they are captured and then used to commit fraud.

Some Simple Tips to Help Avoid Becoming a Victim of Tax Time Scams

  • If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from the ATO, Telstra or any other large government department or telecommunications giant, before you share any of your details with them, take down their information and then call the main customer service phone line to check their identity and also ensure that the request is valid. If you ask too many questions and it’s a scam, then the scammer with likely just hang up.
  • It’s important to be aware of your tax status to avoid falling for misleading emails.  Do you owe money? Are you behind in your tax lodgements? Are you owed a refund? If you receive an email telling you that you are due for a refund from the tax office but you didn’t expect it, assume its too good to be true. And if it is valid, then check your own tax refund status via the offical my.gov.au website.  
  • Educate yourself about what scams are circulating so you are hyper vigilant by visiting www.ato.gov.au/scamalerts and if you know someone who you think might be vulnerable to a scam, educate them too!
  • Ultimately scams target people who might already be nervous about hearing from the tax department. Scammers will call, text and email in a bid to take advantage of people’s fear of getting caught out by the ATO.
  • It's not just the ATO.  Currently doing the rounds is a phishing email that looks like it is from Medicare, asking you to update your Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) details, in order to start receiving payments for Medicare benefits and claims. You are then directed to a clone of the myGov website to trick you into sharing your login and bank account details.
  • For some more helpful tips to protect against these often very deceiving online scams the Government’s Stay Smart Online has some great recommendations.
  • The ACCC suggests anyone wanting to educate themselves or to report scams to visit the www.scamwatch.gov.au site.

Ultimately if you use your common sense, educate yourself about how scammers target their victims and establish a healthy dose of caution when receiving any phone call, email or text message that isn't from your mum (though sometimes even an email which looks like its from your mum can be tricksy!) should put you in good stead to stay safe online.  If in doubt, delete!  

Alison Gallagher is a freelance writer, resourcefulness expert and entrepreneur. She has been featured in various publications including Stellar Magazine, Australian Health and Fitness Magazine, and Cleo Magazine. Alison is particularly passionate about sharing practical tips on how to live simply, sustainably and seasonally.