Victims of the recent natural disasters beware: there is an SMS scam circulating that purports to give you "an 8% bonus" on your 2020 tax return. The scam urges victims to start the process by filling out a form and provides a link to a what looks like the genuine myGov website. According to the ATO, this website is fake and this scam is a classic case of scammers impersonating the ATO in an effort to collect personal information including names, birth dates, addresses, emails, phone numbers and online banking login details. 

Once this information is obtained, scammers can use it to commit identify theft, including porting your phone, accessing your bank account, obtaining a loan in your name, lodging tax returns, stealing your superannuation and committing other types of fraud, or they could on-sell the information to others who may commit these offences.

Over the past few years the ATO has seen an increasing number of reports of scammers contacting members of the public by SMS, email and phone and pretending to be from the ATO. The scams are also becoming more sophisticated, by means such as the use of software to imitate ATO phone numbers, and setting up three-way conversations between the scammer, the victim and another scammer impersonating the victim's tax agent.

If you receive a call from someone saying they are from the ATO but you aren't sure, the best course of action is to hang up and call the ATO back on the appropriate number listed on its website, or to call your tax agent directly on their listed number to seek advice. While the ATO does send SMS messages and emails and calls taxpayers, it's important to remember that the ATO will never:

  • send an SMS message or email asking you to click on a hyperlink to log into myGov or other government websites;
  • ask for personally identifying information in order for you to receive a refund;
  • use aggressive or rude behaviour, or threaten you with immediate arrest, jail or deportation;
  • project its number onto caller ID; or
  • request that you make payments of debt via cardless cash, iTunes or Google Play cards, prepaid Visa cards, cryptocurrency, or direct credit to a personal bank account.

If you've fallen victim to this or other tax-related scams, don't be ashamed, but contact the ATO as quickly as possible. With increasingly sophisticated scams in play, last year over 15,000 people reported to the ATO that they had provided scammers with their personally identifying information. The sooner you notify the ATO, the better the outcome is likely to be.

Remember, these types of phishing activity are not the only way to fall victim to a scam. Recently, a Sydney man who advertised tax services through Facebook and Gumtree was sentenced for pretending to be a tax agent. He charged more than 1,000 people for his services and used their myGov login details to submit tax returns on their behalf, then stole the refunds by diverting them to his own bank account.

If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Never give away your personal information by clicking on links sent to you, unless you're absolutely sure the link is legitimate. The ATO and Tax Practitioners Board also recommend checking the official register to ensure that your tax practitioner is registered and you're not exposed to identity theft.