The ATO is warning taxpayers to protect their personal and financial details after a huge spike in reports of tax-related email scams. Reports for the period from June to now are at 15,441, having quadrupled from the previous year’s figure of 3,586.
So, how can you protect yourself from being duped by these scammers?
First and foremost, do not respond to these emails. The ATO will never send an email requesting personal or financial details from a taxpayer, so no matter how legitimate a message appears, you should contact The ATO directly via their website contact details or phone.
These types of scam aren’t limited to the ATO, so you should have a general rule not to provide any details in response to any suspicious email – or even phone call – that you receive requesting payment, offering a prize or refund – or some other opportunity like a new job.
Even receiving a call from a bank or other major corporation that you deal with should be treated with caution. Rather than providing details immediately, inform the caller that you will contact the company in question yourself. Invariably, all major corporations that you deal with will have websites, phone numbers and physical offices. If the caller tries to push you into making a decision immediately, there is a good chance that they are not legitimate.
In addition to extracting details from you, emails can often have attachments that contain viruses to extract data from your computer. You should ensure that your computer has up-to-date anti-visus software and firewalls in place.
While taking these actions will significantly reduce your likelihood of being scammed, you should also check your bank and credit card statements for any untoward activity on a regular basis. This is good practice in any case, as there are regular cases of incorrect transfers taking place – which are only usually noticed when they involve significantly large amounts of money.
If you find yourself the target of any of these activities, the government provides a website – run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission – called SCAMwatch www.scamwatch.gov.au
that allows you to report your concerns as well as stay up-to-date with the most common scams that are taking place. The site currently has 48 tabs, each one of which links to a unique scam category, so there are certainly plenty of ways people are looking to separate you from your money, but with a little vigilance and common caution, you can avoid being caught out.
By Jennifer Lowe