Beware the Natural Disaster Tax Return Scam

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has seen an increase in reports of scammers pretending to be ATO employees. These scammers use various sophisticated methods to fool people of their money by communicating over text message, email, and phone. Last year a total of 15,000 people fell victim to similar schemes, unknowingly providing their personal information to suspicious sources.

It seems that these scammers have found a new way to steal money and information from unsuspecting users again. The ATO notified the public after they had received reports on a new scam that was being distributed via text message. This scam contained false information, claiming that the receiver had been given an 8% bonus in their 2020 tax returns due to recent natural disasters. The fraudulent text message included a link inviting would-be victims to fill in their data. The link provided has been now taken down.

Avoid engaging with text messages from suspicious senders

The ATO informed the public that they do indeed reach out to taxpayers via text message, emails, and phone calls; however, there may be instances where the people behind the communication are not from ATO.

If you receive communication from a source that claims to be the ATO, some suspicious signs to look out for are:

  • Receiving a text or email with a link that invites users to log in to government services using a link provided
  • A request for personal information before receiving a tax refund
  • The sender or speaker uses aggressive behaviour or resort to threats
  • The caller projects a number to caller ID. The ATO will phone you on a ‘private number’
  • A request payment of a debt via cardless cash, iTunes or Google Play cards, prepaid Visa cards, cryptocurrency, or direct credit to a personal bank account

These criminals have resorted to various methods that seem legitimate. Being aware of dubious techniques could save you from potential harm. Aside from taking note of signs such as those listed above, you should apply these best practices to keep yourself safe from scams:

  • Never open links or attachments from unknown source. Ensure that the text messages you receive are from legitimate sources. If the sender seems suspicious, never click on the links nor download any attachments.
  • Stay updated to news, especially about taxes, to quickly verify its authenticity. Government offices like the ATO always inform people over different forms of media and personal communication for notices and announcements of importance for the public. For instance, if there was to be a real additional tax refund, there would be information about how this would be processed, who is eligible, and so on. The ATO website is a good place to start if you want to verify a claim from a possible fraudulent sender.
  • Do not carelessly input your personal information anywhere online. You must treat your personal data as what it is – personal and private.  You can do this by not giving away informational when you don’t need to.  Similarly, always make sure that your personal information is only given legitimate sources for a particular purpose.  These trusted individuals should the only ones who can access it.

Make sure to practice these good habits to be on top of any scam. If in doubt you should ignore text messages and calls that could be fraudulent or unsafe.

In the event that you have clicked a link to a similar tax scam, immediately call the ATO on 1800 008 540 or report it here.

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