The ATO has updated the following guidance on tax concessions for small businesses:
On 4 December 2019 a case of fraud and theft was heard in Mt Druitt Magistrates Court NSW against an unregistered tax agent. The case highlights the risk of identity crime and the importance of not sharing your private myGov password information.
Information obtained from the hearing of Benjamin Cox revealed that he had fraudulently posed as a tax agent and lodged over a thousand individual tax returns using each taxpayer’s personal myGov access. He charged clients for his services and also stole some refunds his clients were due,using his own bank details to take the payments.
Mr Cox advertised his services through Facebook and Gumtree, targeting vulnerable people in the community who were unfamiliar with the Australian tax system.
In court Mr Cox pleaded guilty to the following charges:
- Dishonestly obtained financial advantage etc by deception under the NSW Crimes Act 1900 paragraph 192E(1)(b).
- Dealt with identity information to commit etc indictable offence under the NSW Crimes Act 1900 section 192J.
As a result of his actions, Mr Cox received a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence to be served in the community by way of an Intensive Corrections Order. He was also ordered to pay over $13,000 in compensation to the ATO and his victims, and has had $22,000 worth of his assets seized.
Tips to identify unregistered preparers
People pretending to be tax agents often promise refunds that are too good to be true or provide discounted services much cheaper than legitimate registered tax agents.
Another tell-tale sign to look out for is that unregistered preparers often use a taxpayer’s personal login details to access their ATO Online account through myGov to lodge tax returns. A legitimate tax practitioner will never ask for your myGov credentials – they use dedicated ATO Online services to lodge returns for their clients.
Giving an unregistered agent your myGov password also puts your personal information at risk.
Make a complaint
If you know of someone providing tax agent services for a fee or other reward who is not registered, you can let the Tax Practitioners Board know at tpb.gov.au/complaints
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.