Accountants and bookkeepers are making hay while the sun shines in the lead up to tax time — but they aren’t the only ones.
Cyber security experts are predicting an increase in scam activity targeting small-to-medium businesses over the next month as fraudsters ramp up their tax time scams.
Large-scale data breaches have put downward pressure on the price of personal information available to cyber criminals, resulting in more numerous and sophisticated scams.
Meanwhile, with small-business scam losses increasing 58% this year, Andrew Bycroft, chief executive of the International Cyber Resilience Institute, says fraudsters have identified SMEs as a lucrative opportunity.
“It’s a bit like raising the red flag to the bull. Once you’ve indicated you are vulnerable or have fallen victim, it alerts them that you’re an easy target,” he tells SmartCompany.
Business owners are being warned to be vigilant, with a new survey of 180 SME owners released today by digital security firm Norton finding just over 80% say they’re worried about online identity theft over the end of financial year period.
They’re even targeting COSBOA chief executive Peter Strong:
I just received a call from the pretend ATO about ‘one of my accounts’. The scammers are getting better and better every day. But they are still thieves and parasites looking for the gullible or the stressed. Go get’em.
— Peter Strong (@PeterStrongSB) May 29, 2019
The Norton survey is a relatively small sample, but compounding concern is the increasingly digitised tax system, which is causing anxiety because highly sensitive personal and financial information is being submitted through online forms.
Common scams to watch out for this tax time
Bycroft says he expects July to be the heaviest month for scam activity, but predicts a large volume of email fraud to start floating around over the next couple of weeks.
Here’s what to watch for.
- Scammers impersonating tax agents or accountants offering to reduce your tax burden.
- Emails, text messages or phone calls purporting to be from the tax office offering tax breaks.
- Tax office impersonators claiming you’ve made an error on your tax return or need to update your details.
- Any correspondence where the status of your financial accounts or personal information is questioned.
- Emails, text messages or phone calls where fraudsters claim your data is being held hostage.
Advice for beating the scammers
The golden rule: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, or at least merits a sceptical approach.
- Only share personal or financial information with tax agents or bookkeepers you know and trust.
- Always ask anyone asking for sensitive information or payment to confirm their identity.
- If someone claims to be from the ATO, but won’t confirm their identity, hang up.
- It’s a good time of the year for a general security check, changing all passwords and getting two-step authentication.
- Check to see if any of your information is vulnerable by using website Have I been Pwned?.
- As the ACCC noted last month: don’t trust email!
Bycroft notes its important to keep in mind you’re much more likely to be targeted as a security vulnerability than your computer is. In other words, humans are the weak point scammers are targeting.
“People are investing money in protecting technology, but the scammers are going to go for humans,” Bycroft says.