ATO warns on new twist after $2m losses

Ms Foat said a number of individuals including at least one small business had fallen victim to this scam when they passed on their access codes so that someone purporting to be from the ATO could collect the “debt” from an ATM.

The tax office is bracing for more impersonators this month as payment deadlines approach and unsuspecting taxpayers and small businesses are less likely to be scrutinising emails and texts.

Last year $2 million was lost to scammers between November and January as scam activity spiked. More than $2 million has been lost so far this calendar year.

The number of bills that are due throughout December mean that smaller operators could easily be tricked into passing on their details, Ms Foat said.

“I would say small businesses could be vulnerable to it,” she said.

The number of scam calls impersonating the tax office over the past year has slowed, Ms Foat said, to be replaced by requests via email and text to update ATO details and settle debts.

Fighting back against scammers: ATO assistant commissioner Karen Foat.Credit:ATO

More than 100,000 Australians have reported suspicious activity so far this year. The average loss is between $3000 and $4000, but the biggest individual loss hit the $50,000 mark.

The ATO said it was working with a range of law enforcement agencies to chase those impersonating it, although doing so is a challenge.

“In many cases, scammers are operating from overseas,” Ms Foat said.

The tax office does call and email taxpayers but will never send an online hyperlink to update personal details, nor will it threaten arrest or legal action for failure to immediately pay a debt.

Australians have already lost more cash to scammers this year than in all of 2018, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch tracker.

In 2018, there was $107 million in reported losses.

There are two months of data yet to count, but Australians have already reported $118 million lost this year, with $8 million lost to schemes involving false bills.

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