ATO warns of phone scam

More than 40,000 people contacted in 2019 so far

According to assistant commissioner Gavin Siebert, scammers are using “Robocall” technology to issue pre-recorded phone calls that impersonate legitimate phone numbers of the ATO.

While the Tax Office issued an alert about the phone scam last year, and another in February this year about “spoofing” or impersonating phone numbers being used in text messages, it warned that “unprecedented numbers” of such calls are still continuing.

“We are now seeing thousands of Australians missing a call from a scammer, returning the call based on the number on caller ID and speaking to legitimate members of the ATO,” Mr Siebert said.

“If the scammers do make contact, they will request payment of a tax debt — usually through unusual methods like bitcoin, gift cards and vouchers… The scammers will threaten you with immediate arrest, attempt to keep you on the line until payment is made and may become rude or aggressive.”

He said that the ATO has received 40,255 reports of impersonation scams in just the first three months of 2019, with losses nudging over $1 million.

What to look out for

“Taxpayers should be wary of any unexpected phone call, text message or email claiming to be from the Tax Office,” Mr Siebert said.

“While we may contact you in these ways, if it doesn’t seem right, independently find our phone number and check if the contact was legitimate.”

There are some tell-tale signs that a call is a hoax, despite the incoming phone number — or email address — appearing to be a legitimate one.

“Our calls do not show a number on caller ID nor do we use pre-recorded messages,” Mr Siebert said.

“[Also,] legitimate ways to pay your tax debt are listed on our website.”

Other things to look out for, which he said the ATO will not do, include:

  • Sending emails or SMS messages asking you to click on a link to a log-in page.
  • Requesting payment of a fee to release a tax refund.
  • Demanding payment of a tax debt in the form of direct credit to a personal bank account, cryptocurrency or pre-paid Visa cards, Google Play cards or via iTunes.
  • Being aggressive or rude, or threatening arrest, jail or deportation.

“If you receive a pre-recorded message claiming to be from [the ATO], either hang up or simply delete the voicemail,” Mr Siebert said.

Hackers target tax file numbers

Federal police are hunting a gang of identity thieves who have been hacking the tax file numbers of up to 500 Australians a day.

The sophisticated online fraudsters have breached payroll systems, harvesting extensive personal details of workers and using the information to lodge fraudulent tax returns.

The revelation is the latest evidence of a large-scale identity fraud problem against government sites and services such as like MyGov, Medicare and the ATO and Labor wants a national investigation. 

In one case this month, payroll software used by a Melbourne accounting firm was hacked and the personal and financial details of 1600 employees of its clients were obtained.

An alarming level of personal data was plundered including, names, address, dates of birth, tax file numbers, bank account details, gross earnings and superannuation funds and membership numbers.

The scammers then prepared and lodged tax returns in the names of some of the unwitting workers.

It is was also confirmed  to victims that MyGov accounts could have been accessed and changed, or new accounts created using the stolen data, potentially leading to all services linked to the federal government web portal, including Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support, being compromised as well.

Living away from home reforms deferred

Legislation introducing the Living Away From Home (LAFH) reforms has been introduced to parliament, but won’t be passed until the August sitting. The biggest change from the previous draft is that the new rules won’t apply until 1 October 2012.

Some other changes have also been made. Here we outline the proposals as they stand now.

  • Generally, LAFH cash allowances are to be treated as assessable income of the employee rather than as a fringe benefit, from 1 October 2012.
  • However, FBT will remain on LAFH cash allowances to the extent they related to “ordinary weekly food and drink expenses” of employees who satisfy the requirements to claim an income tax deduction and have provided their employer with a declaration (this is a change from the earlier draft).
  • Income tax deductions are to be allowed for reasonable expenses incurred for accommodation costs and food and drink costs above the ordinary weekly expenses amount.
  • FBT is to remain on LAFH benefits (ie. the direct provision of accommodation and food or expense payments) provided to employees who would not be eligible to claim an income tax deduction had they incurred the expenses directly. Where employees would be entitled to the deduction, a declaration will be required to ensure no FBT applies.
  • Employees will be required to own or rent another (usual) home in Australia that they are living away from – which cannot be rented out in their absence.
  • The tax concessions are to be limited to a 12 month period for any employee in a particular work location. For arrangements entered into prior to 1 October 2012, the 12 months starts from October 2012, rather than the earlier date of the relocation (this is a change from the earlier draft)
  • Fly-in/fly-out arrangements will be exempt from the 12 month rule and the changes will not impact employees travelling on business (generally up to 21 days, but possibly more).