TAX scammers are increasing their attacks by phone, text and email as they prey on people’s fear of getting in trouble with the Australian Taxation Office.
It’s hunting season for tax scams, and cybersecurity specialists are warning people to beware of the rising use of bully tactics trying to scare Australians into handing over Tax File Numbers, banking details and other personal data to fraudsters.
The ATO, which last year received more than 81,000 scam reports, says it will never act in an abusive manner or threaten immediate arrest, and won’t request personal information via email, text messages or social media.
IT security company Sophos says people should never immediately open any attachments or links on emails that claim to be from the ATO or other government agencies, and instead should telephone them or go separately to their official website.
Sophos general manager Ashley Wearne said targeting people at tax time, when the ATO was top of mind, was a “very efficient business model” for scammers.
“None of us really understand in what ways the ATO could be coming after us, and every person pays tax,” he said. “We don’t fight it — we just go with it.”
“They’re not just coming through email — they’re coming through the phone and the message is more direct and often threatening.” Scammers often accused people of having years of unpaid taxes and were clever at quoting official-sounding legislation, he said.
Tim Bentley, a vice president at cybersecurity firm Proofpoint, said emails and websites were using “sophisticated social engineering techniques” to target Australians using false attachments and claiming missed payment deadlines to create a false sense of urgency.
“Tax season creates a host of opportunities,” he said.
Phishing scams — aimed at stealing people’s personal information — used ATO logos and other branding on their fake pages, he said.
Norton security specialist Mark Gorrie said the ATO would never ask for your Tax File Number or bank details via email or SMS.
“If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from the ATO, take down their information and call the ATO’s office to validate their identity and their request,” he said.
“Know the status of your tax affairs and your account. If you know you don’t have a debt with the Tax Office, then an email or phone call that states otherwise cannot be real.”
You can check you tax information on the my.gov.au website, and the ATO outlines details of recent tax scams at www.ato.gov.au/scamalerts.
AVOID TAX SCAMS
• Be suspicious of all requests for personal information.
• Don’t share too much on social media.
• Back up your computer’s security software regularly.
• Make sure your internet connection is secure and all printed documents are stored securely.
• If concerned, phone the ATO scam hotline on 1800 008 540.
Source: ATO, Norton.
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