By Gillian Bullock
Forget the bank scammers now the rogues are pretending to be from the Australian Tax Office … and what better time than the end of the financial year to hound would-be victims?
This latest scam, via e-mail, tells you that you are eligible for a tax refund following "the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity".
Hello "fiscal activity"? Who uses that sort of phrase in Australia when talking about individuals and their tax? These words alone should alert you to something being fishy or is that "phishy" given that this activity by the scammers if referred to as phishing.
While it is not the first time this tax office scam has hit Australian inboxes there was another round in March its timing close to tax time makes it even more likely to be acted upon. After all tax is uppermost in your mind at this time of year.
The receiver of the e-mail is then directed to a website via a hyperlink to purportedly "submit the tax refund request". The e-mail further goads you into supplying full details by saying that your refund could be delayed for "submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline."
But while they purport that you will be disadvantaged by delaying, the scammers give themselves plenty of time to get away with their deed by asking you to allow them six to nine days to process your refund request.
They sign off the e-mail with "regards, Australian government" which should be another telltale sign that all is not bona fide.
If you were to click on the hyperlink and DON"T you would then be sent to a page which looks quite similar to the ATO's website. Once there you are asked to fill in all your credit card details plus your date of birth. Certainly sufficient information for the scammers to use to their advantage.
It's not known how many Australians have fallen for this scam but certainly sufficient for the ATO to issue a warning.
"People should always be wary of any unsolicited e-mails claiming to be from the Tax Office," says second commissioner Greg Farr. "The Tax Office never send e-mails to people asking them to provide personal information including credit card details."
And that's probably for a good reason. If you were going to receive a refund from the Tax Office, why would you need to give your credit card details? Surely the money would just be deposited in a bank account or even more likely you would just receive a cheque.
Traditionally scammers have tended to say they are from the banks. The use of the Tax Office as a front is new this year.
"Scams are constantly morphing and taking new forms," says Delia Rickard of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. "The scammers are constantly developing new scams that tap into the human psyche."
If, however, you have already provided the scammers with your personal credit card information, then all is not lost even if they have run up a tidy number of purchases using your card details.
You should immediately alert your credit provider to cancel your card and determine whether it has been used without your permission. The financial institution will generally deem any transactions made by the scammers using your card as an authorised transaction and as such you will not be charged.
"The banks have decided to stand by their customers in such cases," says Heather Wellard of the Australian Bankers Association.
In issuing its warning, the ATO's Farr adds: "As an extra precaution we recommend you type Internet addresses directly into your Internet browser rather than clicking on hyperlinks embedded in e-mails."
Trying to keep ahead of the scammers should not be that difficult. Nobody should be asking for your credit card details, full stop.
Comprehensive tax return guide
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