By Andrew Hayes, Director, Westlawn Business Services 21 July 2015
It’s tax time and, according to the Tax Office, that means we all have to be extra vigilant when it comes to protecting our personal information. This is the time of year when scam artists ramp up their activity in trying to get unsuspecting members of the public to unwittingly hand over personal information and money.
On 6 July, the Australian Tax Office warned the public to be alert for scammers attempting to steal personal information at this time of year.
One such scam, according to SmartCompany, involves fraudsters impersonating ATO employees.
“Beware of a scam going around where somebody is ringing up pretending to be from the ATO saying they are from the DPP and they are surveying you for fraudulent or non-lodgment of tax returns and to ring 02 6152 8615.”
John Becker, the ATO’s chief information security officer, warned that scammers can be very convincing in tricking people to hand over money, their tax file number or their personal information.
“Their tricks include impersonating ATO representatives on the phone or sending fraudulent emails,” Becker said.
To illustrate how serious the problem is, the ATO has received more than 42,000 reports of email and phishing scams in the last year alone. It’s safe to assume that many more have gone unreported.
12 tips to protect yourself and your business
To avoid falling victim to a scam, the ATO recommends the following 12 tips to protect yourself and your business:
1. Never share personal information, such as your TFN, myGov or bank account details on social media.
2. Change any passwords you may have shared with family or friends.
3. If you receive an unexpected email or phone call 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 on the caller.
4. Don’t open any attachments, click any links or reply to suspect emails. They may take you to a bogus website or install a harmful virus on your computer.
5. If you’re not sure whether a call or email is a scam, verify who the caller or sender is by using their official contact details to call them back directly. Never use contact details provided by the caller – find them through an independent source such as a phone book or online search.
6. Always keep your computer security up to date with anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a good firewall. Only buy computer and anti-virus software from a reputable source.
7. Never send money or give your financial details to someone you don’t know or trust.
8. If you suspect you may have inadvertently provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.
10. Never put your tax file number on your resume. Only give it to your employer after you have started your job.
11. If you receive a call from the ATO and are concerned about providing your personal information over the phone, ask for the caller’s name and phone them back through the ATO’s switchboard or on 13 28 69.
The ATO also issued a warning this month about a specific scam involving fraudsters intimidating people into paying a fake tax debt over the phone by threatening them with jail or arrest.
According to ATO Second Commissioner, Geoff Leeper, the Tax Office is very concerned about taxpayer privacy and reminds people of the key differences between a scam and a genuine call from the ATO.
“We make thousands of outbound calls to taxpayers a week, but there are some key differences to a legitimate call from the ATO and a call from a potential scammer.
“We would never cold call you about a debt; we would never threaten jail or arrest; and our staff certainly wouldn’t behave in an aggressive manner,” Mr Leeper said.
He added that scammers pretending to be from the ATO are generally more common during tax time and he encouraged people to be vigilant and to protect their personal information.
The ATO would never cold call you about a debt. If you have a debt, you will receive a letter or SMS to remind you that a payment is due in the first instance.
The ATO would never threaten jail or arrest.
If you receive a call from the ATO and you’re concerned about its legitimacy, ask for the caller’s name and call them back on 13 28 69.
Website scam costs Aussie investors $2.4 million
Of course, it’s not only tax scams that you have to be alert to. Western Australian police revealed earlier this month that Australian investors have recently lost more than $2.4 million to a bogus investment company based in Dubai operating a very convincing, yet fake, website.
The fake investment website is operated by a group claiming to be Larosa Holdings Ltd, trading as Larosa Group.
An investigation has so far confirmed that Larosa Group is not registered as a provider with the Dubai Financial Services Authority. Also, images of executives used on the website have been stolen from legitimate websites.
Addresses in Dubai and Canada listed on the website are also phoney.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll urged investors not to deal with the Larosa Group while inquiries are underway.
“We need to urgently warn would-be investors to be aware that this website and the company behind it, Larosa Group, appear to be an elaborate fabrication to deceive and defraud investors whose money is likely to be lost,” she said.
“Anyone who has had dealings with Larosa Group is urged to make a report to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN). I would also strongly recommend that investors only use licensed financial investment operators when looking to invest their money.
“Doing random searches on the internet for investment opportunities is a risky exercise as some professional looking websites could be fake and operated by criminals seeking to defraud would-be investors,” Ms Driscoll said.
DisclaimerWestlawn Business Services Pty Ltd provides this information for general guidance only, and does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services, investment advice, or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal, or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation.