Fraud

“New Year, new scam”: ATO sounds the alarm as fraudsters change tactics

Matthew Elmas /

After an uptick in reports of fraudsters impersonating the tax office via phone scams in 2018, the ATO has issued a New Year warning about a worrying evolution in their tactics.

Assistant commissioner Karen Foat says scammers have taken to spoofing the ATO’s number to send fake SMS messages to taxpayers asking them to hand over their personal details for apparent “tax refunds”.

The text messages, which have been circulating over the last few weeks, have in some instances told recipients they can claim thousands of dollars in refunds.

The ATO does send text message reminders to taxpayers, however, they don’t include click-through links.

A website hosting the scam over the last fortnight has been shut down but it is understood the messages are still being sent.

“This scam is not just targeting your money, but is after your personal information in an attempt to steal your identity,” Foat said.

“Taxpayers should be wary of any phone call, text message or email asking you to provide login, personal or financial information, especially if you weren’t expecting it.”

Spoofing is a common practice used by scammers that allows them to imitate the ATO’s official phone number in an attempt to appear authentic to potential victims.

But the ATO says it won’t send taxpayers requests to click links or provide login information.

Last year hundreds of thousands of dollars was lost to ATO scammers, with a similar scheme that spoofed the ATO’s number for fraudulent phone calls proving successful.

Experts believe the increasing frequency of high-profile data breaches is fuelling the activity as it’s providing scammers with cheaper and more accessible contact information.

Andrew Bycroft, chief executive of the International Cyber Resilience Institute says spoofing has been happening for a long time and can also be done with email domains.

“There is no substitute though for validating any messages that appear to come from the ATO that seem a little out of the ordinary,” he tells SmartCompany.

“If in doubt, go to the ATO website, obtain the phone number listed there and then call and explain you received a message.

“They will be able to either confirm or deny that it is legitimate, do not call the numbers or links that are sent in an email or SMS as, if these are scams, you will be communicating with the scammers instead of the ATO,” he advises.

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany. You can contact him at [email protected].