Christmas in July – Beware the Grinch

Stan Gallo Partner Forensic
Stan Gallo, Partner Forensic

It’s that time of year again. There is a flurry of activity as organisations around Australia are feverishly working to rule the all-important line that, together with the last of the checks and balances, draws the financial year to close. It is also the time we go rummaging for that shoe box full of receipts and half completed spreadsheet we swear every year we will maintain to hasten the lodgement of our tax return, and hopefully, reward us with a refund.

To some, a tax refund is like Christmas in July, but you may not be on the receiving end of the gifts. The end of financial year and the months that follow immediately after are a ripe time to prey on those Australians diligently collecting the information required by their accountant or the Australian Tax Office (ATO), and it’s getting worse.

The ATO has reported that this time of year and the months that follow, often sees a spike in a range of scams aimed at tricking people into providing sensitive information or paying non-existent fees that can see them out of pocket for thousands of dollars. Scams come in all shapes and sizes including phone calls, emails, text messages and yes, even the poor old fax machine (remember those!) struggling to hang on to its identity in an increasingly digital world. Over $1 million has already been reported as lost to the Government Scamwatch service so far this year.

Generally the scammers adopt aggressive pressure tactics backed by ‘personal’ insights. They seem to know so much about you and your details that they must be telling the truth – right? Or is it possible that there has been some harvesting of social media or other publicly available information about you in order to appear legitimate. Even if you don’t post, tweet, snap or insta, are there others close to you who do?  What about that email with the ATO and MyGov logo – surely the links in that must be legitimate? The scams focus on obtaining money, either by steering you towards making a payment or by using your personal information to set up or redirect funds into false accounts or falsely claim benefits etc.

In order to be successful scammers need the victim to cooperate, either by paying money, providing information, clicking on a malicious link in an email or following a raft of instructions on your computer. The majority of people are generally trusting by nature and particularly so if the scammer has credible sounding information to back their story. A small amount of personal information or the victim’s telephone displaying the caller’s number (a trick called spoofing), coupled with a sense of urgency is often enough to tip the balance in the scammer’s favour.

Advising suspicion about everything and everyone is easily said and does not come naturally to many people. But how is it that when we complete our tax returns, we consider what is and is not acceptable to the ATO,  we ensure that we have receipts and supporting documentation for our claims just in case the ATO asks questions.  We have everything ready to prove our position – yet we do not always ask the same of others in their representations to us.

So what can we do to protect ourselves?

There are a few basic things that, if you can remember, will at least give you cause to pause and consider what you provide:

The ATO does not threaten you, nor does it require a fee to access a refund.

The ATO will never ask for your Tax File Number, credit card details or personal banking information.

The ATO will not send an email with attachments or links that request personal information.

If you were not expecting a contact, human or electronic, that seeks payment, personal information or some type of urgent action, then take steps to independently verify the accuracy of the requests.

If you have any doubt at all, contact the ATO on 1800 008 540.

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