Throughout the last year, I’ve noticed approximately one in four of my clients have been on the receiving end of an attempted ATO scam. These scammers impersonate as staff from the Australian Taxation Office. The ATO has reported that they received over 40,000 reports of attempted ATO scams throughout 2019 which have constituted over $1 million worth of losses. These ATO scams are usually claiming that you have a tax liability, or the AFP are after you. They’re becoming savvier about their tactics which means it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate from the Nigerian Kings asking you to handle his fortunes to the legitimate forms of communication you are receiving between you and the ATO. However, there are a few ways to help with identifying the difference between the two.
ATO Scams Tip #1 – Did They Verify Your Information?
The ATO is extremely strict on personal information. Any information given out is generally verified against your personal information a number of times. If it’s proven that you are the correct person they are speaking to, only then will they release information to you. If you are receiving suspected ATO scam calls that simply are assumptively questioning your identification, then you should start to be suspicious. Questions such as:
- Is your name Joe Bloggs?
- Do you live at 123 Smith Street?
- Is your date of birth 1st January 1990?
Remember – the responsibility is on you as the recipient of these phone calls to verify your information by giving your personal information to them or to log into your accountant via the MyGov secured portal on their official website to read important messages and information.
ATO Scams Tip #2 – Was it a Pre-Recorded Message?
The ATO never uses pre-recorded messages to communicate sensitive information with you. This is always done by a real person or requires you to once again, log into the MyGov secured portal. You should not have seen your personal information being displayed in any emails received from the ATO.
ATO Scams Tip #3 – Check the ATO Website
Google “ATO Tax Scams” or check the ATO official website to find out examples of the latest ATO scams that are circulating around. If you’ve been subject to one of these attempts then chances are, it’s happening to a lot of people. Once the ATO is aware of this, they distribute this so that people can verify whether or not it is a legitimate form of communication from the tax office.
ATO Scams Tip #4 – Get a Second Opinion
If you have a regular accountant who handles all of your paperwork and lodgements, then chances are, the ATO has their contact information on hand. It is the first port of call for the tax office to contact your accountant before speaking to you. For the majority of cases, if the ATO requires further information regarding you and your business, your accountant can give this information. It’s very unlikely for the tax office to call you after speaking to your accountant (unless they cannot answer a certain question) or to bypass your accountant altogether to speak to you. If you don’t have an accountant, we recommend you get a second opinion from the ATO themselves.
ATO Scams Tip #5 – What Payment Method was Requested?
Traceable forms of payments are the preferred choice of payment by the ATO – these include bank transfer (EFT), cheque or BPay. If you’re getting requests to pay via cryptocurrency, prepaid credit cards or gift cards, alarm bells should be ringing!
ATO Scams Tip #6 – Did They Ask for Payment via Email/SMS?
As we mentioned above, the majority of communication from the ATO is done via phone calls. Emails and texts are generally for informational purposes and are general in nature. Make sure you are checking whether the phone number or email appears to be from a legitimate source. If it is an issue that is specific to you, emails or SMS’ generally will not display sensitive information. Again, they will generally request that you either call the ATO or log into the MyGov portal to provide this information.
ATO Scams Tip #7 – Was It Unexpected and Did They Threaten You?
Genuine ATO scams can be extremely pushy and intimidating, usually in the form of an arrest or penalty if you don’t pay immediately. Remember – these criminals have very limited time to try and coerce you into giving them your money. If your accountant hasn’t made you aware of anything urgent or you didn’t personally expect to receive a call from the ATO, then chances are that it’s not legitimate.
Ultimately, anyone can be subject to these scams and it’s important that you understand your own tax affairs to ensure that you are not vulnerable to these attempts. We recommend that you guard your personal financial information carefully and avoid sharing it with anyone other than your accountant. Avoiding these scams are a community effort and require constant reporting and verifying to ensure as many people are safeguarded from such criminal activity. It’s important that if you are unsure, that you do not reply or do anything before verifying this information with your accountant or the ATO.