ATO sounds warning on tax time scams: 226 Australians have lost $1.2 million to tax scammers this year so far

Worried man

Australian SMEs are once again being urged to be extra vigilant when it comes to their tax affairs, after the Australian Tax Office revealed 226 Australians lost $1.2 million to tax scammers this year so far.

The ATO received reports of more than 40,500 tax-related phone scams between January and May this year, the tax office said in on Wednesday. Of those reports, 226 people were scammed out of more than $1.2 million and more than 1900 people gave scammers personal information, including their tax file numbers.

The volume of reported tax-related email and phone scams jumped by more than 90% between 2014 and 2015, according to the ATO, with close to 87,000 scams reported to the tax office in 2015.

“In the last couple of years, not only have we seen a significant increase in the number of scams reported to us but also the different types of approaches by fraudsters,” ATO assistant commissioner Graham Whyte said in the same statement.

Whyte said the ATO has received reports of an “aggressive tax debt scam” that involves individuals being threatened with jail or arrest by the scammers. A variation on this scam, in which the scammers impersonate ATO officers and demand individuals make payments in the form of iTunes and Visa gift cards, has also been reported.

He said the ATO would never cold call taxpayers about a debt or threaten individuals with jail time or an arrest. Nor would the ATO ask for tax payments to be made via pre-paid gift cards, Whyte said.

“Most Australians are pretty good at catching fraudsters in the act,” Whyte said.

“This is clear from the amount of scams reported to us compared to the number of people handing over money and personal information.

“We encourage people to continue to be vigilant and to protect their personal information by keeping it private.”

Paul Drum, head of policy at CPA Australia, told SmartCompany CPA Australia members “see the sad results of these scams when it is too late for the victims”.

“The increase is not only telephone but also email scams in the last 12 months is profound,” Drum says.

“The reality is people can be too trusting and we are seeing some of the more vulnerable members of our community falling victim to these scams.

“The ATO will never cold call you about a debt. If you are contacted by anyone saying they are from the ATO, don’t give them any information. You should contact your tax agent or the ATO directly to verify.”

Drum says individuals and business owners shouldn’t be embarrassed if they are caught up in a tax-related scam.

“You should report what has happened to the ATO and to the authorities,” he says.

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