ATO warns fraudsters are increasingly active during tax time

Peter Terlato 18 July 2016

tax scam

Taxpayers alerted to spike in phone and email scams in 2015.

Right now it's tax time, and the Australian Tax Office (ATO) is warning Aussies to remain vigilant, given the dramatic spike in reported scams and hoaxes over the past few years.

In 2015 almost 87,000 fraudulent phone and email scams were reported to the ATO, up more than 90% year-on-year.

Assistant Commissioner Graham Whyte says that fraudsters are more prolific than ever and use a variety different approaches to con and deceive taxpayers.

"Most Australians are pretty good at catching fraudsters in the act. This is clear from the amount of scams reported to us compared to the number of people handing over money and personal information," Whyte said.

“We encourage people to continue to be vigilant and to protect their personal information by keeping it private.”

In the first five months of 2016 the ATO received over 40,500 reports of phone scams, with 226 Aussies parting with more than $1.2 million in fraudulent payments. Of those scammed, 1900 people divulged some form of personal information, including tax file numbers.

Whyte says taxpayers should be aware that the ATO would never cold call or email taxpayers regarding debt or threaten them, either with aggression or through fear of potential jail time or arrest.

"If you’re not sure, hang up and call us back on 1800 008 540," he says.

One current scam involves callers impersonating ATO officers and demanding payments in the form of iTunes and pre-paid Visa gift cards purchased from supermarkets and department stores.

He adds that the ATO also wouldn't request you provide personal details, such as banking information, via email. This is carried out through ATO Online services.

You can report scams or check the validity of a communication by visiting the government's Scamwatch website.

While the ATO will continue its crackdown on scammers, close attention will also be paid to individuals claiming income and expenses on rental properties and the authenticity of work-related entitlements.

If you're struggling to complete your returns this year, we've got some simple tips to help maximise your tax refund and identify the deductions you can claim.

Picture: Shutterstock

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