The scams targeting Australians at tax time — and the signs to look out for

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun17,2024
Key Points
  • Scammers are turning to increasingly sophisticated methods to obtain Australians’ personal details at tax time.
  • Phone calls, text messages and emails from people purporting to be from the tax office are frequently used.
  • The Australian Tax Office says there are several things to keep in mind when unsure if a message is legitimate.
As tax time approaches, banks and government institutions are warning that scammers are turning to increasingly sophisticated methods to get Australians’ personal information.
, scammers are looking to capitalise on the eagerness of Australians awaiting tax refunds.
New YouGov research commissioned by the Commonwealth Bank found that around one in four Australians had been exposed to a tax-related scam.

And while nine in 10 Australians surveyed said they felt confident they could spot a scam SMS or email, when tested with multiple tax phishing scams almost one in three (31 per cent) failed to spot one or more.

What is phishing?

Phishing scams seek to trick you into providing personal information — such as your bank details, passwords and credit card numbers.
The National Anti Scam-Centre’s most recent quarterly report .

Samantha Yorke, from the Australian Communications and Media Authority, said scammers will often seek to mimic correspondence from reputable sources, such as your bank or government bodies like myGov and the Australian Tax Office (ATO).

“What we have seen are often robocalls or calls from people who are pretending to be from the tax office, calling on the basis of an urgent debt that needs to be paid or to request personal information from you in order to process a tax refund,” she told SBS News.
“Contact can also be made by email or SMS that often include links to follow, to update or fix your personal information to receive a fake refund.”
These emails and texts will often mimic the style of your bank or government institutions and can look very convincing. Particularly worrying is that they may appear in a thread of genuine messages from those organisations.

They might include a hyperlink to a fake website that looks like the real version and can also ask you to enter your card details or login information.

“The major red flag for this type of scam is the link, which differs considerably from the official myGov and ATO website addresses,” said James Roberts, Commonwealth Bank’s general manager of group fraud.

How to spot a scam at tax time

Rob Thomson is an assistant commissioner for the ATO. He says there are multiple things to keep in mind when you’re unsure if communications are legitimate.

Firstly, the ATO will never send an unsolicited email or SMS that contains a link or QR code to log in to their online services or myGov. You should make sure to go directly to online services or myGov through your own browser.

Thomson says the ATO will also never ask for your passwords, account numbers or any other personal data via email, SMS or unsolicited phone calls.
“The other one is the ATO numbers actually come up as ‘no caller ID’, so they don’t show a number,” he added.

“And we’ll never threaten people with immediate arrest or demand that they stay on the phone until they’ve made a payment.”

A hand holding a phone that's receiving a call from an unknown caller.

Phone calls from the ATO will come up on your phone as ‘no caller ID’, and won’t show a number. Source: Getty / Rafael Abdrakhmanov/iStockphoto

Catriona Lowe, acting chairwoman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, says it’s important to trust your instincts in situations that don’t feel quite right.

“Before you click on that link or make that transfer, think: ‘Do I really know who I’m dealing with?’ Independently find the website and check that what sounds like a good opportunity is in fact legitimate.”

Before you click on that link or make that transfer, think: ‘Do I really know who I’m dealing with?’

Catriona Lowe, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

Scammers often rely on a sense of urgency and anxiety to lure their victims into a high emotional state where their judgement is clouded and “usual cautions may be overridden”.

Legitimate organisations will never pressure you to hand over details on the spot — so it’s important not to rush into anything, and if things seem suspicious, contact the organisation on a verified phone number or via their official website or app.

What to do if you think you’ve fallen for a scam

If you’ve provided personal details to a scammer, it’s important to contact your bank or financial institution immediately. It’s also a good idea to change your username and password if you’ve given them out.

Reporting scams is also important as it helps to keep banks and anti-scam organisations aware of new methods scammers are using. The National Anti-Scam Centre’s latest Targeting Scams report revealed Australians lost $2.74 billion to scams in 2023 and reported over 601,000 different scams to key monitoring organisations.

Lowe said while people often feel a sense of shame or embarrassment about falling for a scam, it’s important to remember that “people from all walks of life, all ages [and] all demographics” have been caught by scammers.
“Secondly, you have been targeted by a financial criminal. It is a deliberate sophisticated trap. Like any crime, it is not the fault of the victim, it is the fault of the criminal.”
Yorke says it’s important to have conversations about scams with family, friends and colleagues to combat the feelings of shame around them.

“The more that we talk about scams as a society, we kind of de-stigmatise them.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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