As tax season rolls around, Australians are warned to stay vigilant against increasingly sophisticated scams aimed at stealing personal information. The Australian Tax Office (ATO) and other institutions are alerting everyone to be cautious, especially during the current cost of living crisis, which has made many eager for tax refunds.

The Rising Threat of Tax Scams

Recent research by YouGov, commissioned by the Commonwealth Bank, revealed that about one in four Australians have encountered a tax-related scam. Despite high confidence in spotting scams, nearly a third of participants failed to recognise one or more phishing attempts. Phishing remains the most reported scam type in Australia, according to the National Anti-Scam Centre.

Common Tactics Used by Scammers

Scammers often impersonate reputable sources such as banks, the ATO, or myGov. They use various methods, including:

  • Phone Calls and Robocalls: These calls often threaten urgent debts or request personal information to process tax refunds.
  • Emails and SMS: Messages that mimic the style of legitimate institutions, sometimes appearing in genuine message threads. They often contain links to fake websites designed to steal personal data.

James Roberts, Commonwealth Bank’s fraud manager, advises looking out for mismatched links in these communications as a major red flag.

How to Identify a Scam

Rob Thomson, an assistant commissioner for the ATO, highlights several key points to consider:

  • Unsolicited Messages: The ATO will never send emails or SMS containing links or QR codes for logging into services. Always access services directly through your browser.
  • No Personal Data Requests: The ATO will not ask for passwords, account numbers, or personal data via email, SMS, or unsolicited phone calls.
  • No Caller ID: ATO calls will show ‘no caller ID.’ They will never threaten immediate arrest or demand on-the-spot payments.

Catriona Lowe from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission urges people to trust their instincts and independently verify any suspicious communications.

What to Do if You Fall for a Scam

If you suspect you have provided personal information to a scammer, take immediate action:

  1. Contact Your Bank: Inform your financial institution to protect your accounts.
  2. Change Passwords: Update any compromised usernames and passwords.
  3. Report the Scam: Reporting helps keep monitoring organisations updated on new scam techniques.

In 2023, Australians lost $2.74 billion to scams, with over 601,000 reports made. Remember, falling for a scam is not your fault but the result of a criminal act.

Reducing Stigma Around Scams

Discussing scams openly with friends, family, and colleagues can reduce the stigma and help spread awareness. As Samantha Yorke from the Australian Communications and Media Authority notes, increasing conversations about scams can help society collectively combat them.

Stay informed and cautious this tax season to protect yourself from becoming a victim of these malicious schemes. By understanding the signs and knowing the steps to take, you can safeguard your personal information and financial well-being.

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