Beware surging tax time scams
TAX scammers are increasing their use of threatening phone calls, bizarre requests and new technologies to steal.
The Australian Taxation Office has warned that scam activity surges at tax time – and it already has noticed a fivefold increase in scams this year – with “convincing” hoaxes costing victims hundreds of thousands of dollars.
H& R Block director of tax communications Mark Chapman said his firm was receiving reports across Australia from clients contacted by scammers requesting bank account details for bogus refunds or demanding payment for non- existent tax debts. “They have established that the way to make these scams work is to be as forceful, threatening and aggressive as they can,” he said.
“People don’t think straight when they feel under pressure, and are more likely to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t.”
Mr Chapman said the high pressure tactics used by scammers included demanding instant payment by money transfers or iTunes cards.
“The ATO never asks you to pay a debt over the phone,” he said. An ATO spokeswoman said some overseas scammers were using internet phone calls to project real ATO numbers on to their caller IDs and demanding immediate payments with prepaid gift cards. She said some victims were being contacted repeatedly and asked to pay fake debts in instalments.
One victim handed over $ 900,000 to tax scammers between July 2016 and February this year. Another lost $ 100,000 to a similar tactic.
“The scammers were so convincing that when the ATO tried to contact the victim to let her know she had been involved in a scam, she did not believe the ATO officers,” the spokeswoman said.
Cybersecurity expert David Sykes, of Sophos, said he had seen a big rise in phone scams.
“These guys are dishonourable seagulls and they’re completely opportunistic. They will try to create some sort of urgency,” he said.
Mr Sykes said scammers only required a one in 100,000 success rate to make their email attacks profitable, but research had found they were doing better than that — about one in 5000 hits in Australia.
Mr Chapman said people should never give out personal details to unsolicited contacts, but call the ATO directly to see if there’s an actual issue.