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.

NSW Land Tax Assessment includes Foreign Person Surcharge when property owned by Family Trust

Revenue NSW (Formerly known as the Office of State Revenue) considers Family Trusts to be subject to the Foreign Persons Surcharge on stamp duty and Land Tax for any New South Wales residential property owned through the Trust, including Trusts that are based outside of NSW.

Revenue NSW has confirmed that they automatically apply the 2% foreign person land tax surcharge on properties where the title indicates that it is owned through a Family Trust.

Revenue NSW gives trustees 6 months (from the assessment date) to update their Trust Deed to remove foreign persons as beneficiaries. After the deed is updated, the trustee can then apply for the surcharge to be refunded.

In short, Family Trusts may have to pay the tax first and then apply for a refund (after they have updated their Deed), regardless of whether there is any history of the trust distributing to a foreign person.

The situation is slightly different for properties in other states held by Family Trusts. Victoria, Queensland and South Australia also impose foreign person surcharges on Stamp Duty and/or Land Tax, with Western Australia due to follow in 2019. Each state has its own legislation which deals with how these surcharges apply to Family Trusts and the legislation in each state differs.

Proposed changes to GST on property transactions

Measures to strengthen compliance with the GST law in the property development sector have been introduced into parliament this week.

The Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Measures No 1) Bill 2018 will amend several tax laws to require purchasers of new residential premises and new subdivisions of potential residential land to make a GST payment directly to the ATO as part of settlement from 1 July 2018.

This was announced in the 2017-18 Federal Budget, is designed to counter tax evasion where some developers collect GST from their customers but dissolve their company to avoid paying it to the ATO. Currently, developers may have up to three months to remit GST after the sale of newly constructed residential premises and new subdivisions, allowing dishonest developers to avoid their GST obligations.

The government claims that the cost impacts on purchasers using conveyancing services are expected to be minor, given this change leverages the existing disbursement process and the use of standard contracts.

CPA Australia understands and agrees with the intent of the Bill, though disagrees with the assumption that the change will have minimal impact on most purchasers.

The impact on the cash flow of builders could be quite significant

In its submission on the draft legislation, CPA Australia stated that it is the experience of its members that GST on property transactions can be complex, including calculating the GST payable, and that such transactions may be outside the skills of many BAS and tax agents, let alone conveyancers.