Be­ware surg­ing tax time scams

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS - AN­THONY KEANE

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.

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