Australians have lost more than $1 million to tax scammers this year

Angus Kidman 1 August 2016

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Fake tax bills continue to target taxpayers – here's how to stay safe.

Late last week, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Scamwatch site warned that tax scams are alive and well this financial year. In the first half of the year, 300 people have reported scams to the site, and more than $1 million has been lost to the scammers.

The typical strategy used is to claim that an overdue tax bill must urgently be paid, with threats of arrest or more if money isn't received immediately. Click on the link and you'll go through to a site which will probably use the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) logo, but will in fact be a deceptive duplicate, with no purpose other than to steal your money.

While email remains a key method for scammers, old-fashioned phone calls are also common. One advantage of that approach is that it's likely to hit victims who aren't keeping track of the rapidly changing online tax environment. This year alone has seen the ATO eliminate its etax package in favour of the myTax online system, though it's advising people not to submit that until later in August.

The ATO has also warned of the potential for scams. Earlier this year, it reported that it had received over 40,500 reports of phone scams, and that a total of $1.2 million in payments had been made by 226 Australians. Those are just the figures the ATO knows about; the final numbers are likely to be much higher. (Note that the ATO loss figure is already higher than the one reported by the ACCC).

Those figures tell you why scams aren't going to disappear, despite all the warnings. For scammers, it's a profitable business. On the ATO numbers, that's an average of $5,300 per scam victim. As long as that's the case, it's going to be worth the while for scammers to keep shooting out scam emails and setting up fake offshore call centres. In those call centres, the staff will be paid, but $5,300 will cover an awful lot of hours.

The lesson is simple. If you get a phone call that claims to be from the ATO, hang up. If you get an email saying you owe money or are owed a refund, delete it. Be cynical, and don't fall for the scams.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on finder.com.au.

Picture: Shutterstock

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