The ATO and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) are warning taxpayers to watch out for scammers. ACCC Acting Chair Delia Rickard has warned that scammers would go to great lengths to scam taxpayers. Their methods include impersonating ATO representatives on the phone, sending fraudulent emails and even creating bogus websites.
The ATO has seen a spike in reports from the public of email and phishing scams since 1 March 2014, compared with the same period last year. Not only are scammers trying to steal money, they are also trying to steal identities, which could be more costly to fix. ATO Chief Technology Officer Todd Heather said scammers are becoming more cunning in their attempts to defraud the public and trick them into handing over money, their tax file number or personal information.
“These fraudsters contact you out of the blue, claiming you have overpaid your tax and are now entitled to a refund. To obtain the refund, they ask you to first pay an ‘administration’ or ‘transfer’ fee. They may also ask for your financial details so they can transfer your ‘refund’ to you. If you hand over money to these scammers, chances are you won’t see it again. If you incidentally give your personal details to a scammer, your bank accounts and identity could be at risk of fraud,” Ms Rickard said.
The ATO advises that if you receive an email or phone call out of the blue from “the ATO” claiming that you are entitled to a refund or asking you to confirm, update or disclose confidential details like your tax file number, delete the email or hang up. If you receive a call from the ATO and are concerned about providing personal information over the phone, you should ask for the caller’s name and phone them back through the ATO’s switchboard on 13 28 69.
Australian experiences of identity crime and misuse
Earlier this year, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) released results of a national online survey exploring the nature and scope of identity crime in Australia. The report commissioned by the Australian Government noted the misuse of personal information has been recognised in income tax evasion, customs duty and GST fraud, superannuation fraud and welfare fraud.
The survey found that almost one in 10 people experienced misuse of their personal information in the previous 12 months, and one in five people experienced misuse of their personal information at some point in their lives. The survey also found that 5% of people experienced identity crime or misuse resulting in a financial loss in the previous 12 months. In announcing the results of the survey, Attorney-General George Brandis said the results “suggest identity crime directly affects around 1 million Australians each year and is one of the most common types of crime in Australia”.
Participants were asked how they believed their personal information had been misused on the most serious occasion in the previous 12 months. Most participants believed their personal information was misused to obtain money from a bank account (35.4%). Some participants believed their information was misused to file a fraudulent tax return (7.2%), to apply for government benefits (4.1%), or to obtain superannuation monies (5.1%).
Document verification service for businesses
The Government has developed an electronic document verification service (DVS) for use by businesses. The DVS helps businesses to protect themselves against identity crime and also makes it easier for businesses to meet regulatory obligations to verify customer identities. The DVS allows businesses to verify information, “in real-time”, on drivers licences, passports, visas and Medicare cards, directly with the issuing agency. The Government noted the system is not a database and does not store any personal information. Further, all DVS checks must be done with the informed consent of the person involved. Further information is available on the DVS website.