‘You are not anonymous’: Tax office goes after 40,000 people in $850 million scam

small business tax budget

More than 40,000 taxpayers have been put on notice after the Australian Tax Office (ATO) got wind of an $850 million “significant fraud” circulating on social media where offenders were claiming GST refunds for non-existent businesses.

The con involved creating a sham business and ABN application, and then submitting falsified business activity statements to receive a fraudulent GST refund.

Payments were made to some 40,000 people, the ATO continued, with each person claiming an average of around $20,000 each in the scam.

But the fraudulent payments are now under the microscope of Operation Protego, the ATO says, as the tax office works alongside banks, the Reserve Bank and an AUSTRAC-led coalition of law enforcement and financial industry players to unpick the damage.

ATO deputy commissioner Will Day warned offenders that they are not anonymous.

“We know who they are and we will be taking action,” he said.

“We are working with social media platforms to help remove content promoting this fraud, but if you see something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

But Day was also conscious that it may be the unwitting byproduct of financial difficulties arising from natural disasters or pandemic pressures, and reminded people that the ATO does not offer loans or hand out government support.

“People who have participated in this fraud may have unwittingly followed advice they have read online, claiming to help access a loan from the ATO, or receive other financial government support such as a disaster payment,” Day said.

“However, for others there was nothing accidental or unintentional about setting up a fake business in their own name and seeking an unearned refund.”

Day says anyone who was involved in the con should proactively make themselves known to the tax office.

“We are urging anyone involved to face the music and come forward now rather than face … penalties and criminal charges.”

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