Tax scams return for the year, don’t get caught out

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The new tax year is about to begin in Australia, and you know what that means: the return of tax scams. Here’s what’s going on and how not to get caught out.

Every year, almost like clockwork, the scammers come out of the woodwork to convince good people that the emails purportedly coming from the Australian Taxation Office are real, when they are pretty much not that.

They can technically be found all year round if you look hard enough, or don’t check your inbox frequently enough, but primarily they arrive when it’s time to start looking at doing your taxes, which appears to be right now, and that’s exactly what has started happening.

“Tax time is universally considered a hotbed for malicious and scam-related activity,” said Security Expert Nick Savvides, one such specialist at Symantec, makers of Norton.

“The scammers will use this time to impersonate the ATO via email, SMS and phone-calls, because they know people are busy working on tax returns or waiting for refunds, so they are more likely to believe them.

This week, the scams have kicked into gear as fake ATO emails appear in the inboxes of plenty of Australians, claiming to be from the right people and suggesting that someone from the tax department has a refund for you to put right into your bank account.

We shouldn’t have to point out that this is all fake, especially since it’s unlikely you’ve put your tax in from the beginning of the financial year, especially before the new financial year has begun, which is when this story was posted.

Despite this, there are some dead giveaways to alert you to the fact that the email isn’t from the ATO.

One of these is the inclusion of a ZIP file, which is the payload for the scam being emailed. Inside that zip file is a nasty little Trojan Horse of a virus that has been designed to steal information from your computer, usually of a financial nature. Generally, emails with ZIP files attached should be approached carefully, and if all else fails, call the person or company who sent you the email and ask if they meant to send you a ZIP file. If they say no, delete it promptly.

Internet security and anti-virus software will help combat these viruses, but being on guard yourself is an even better way to make sure you don’t get caught by an emailed tax scam.

“We recommend being extremely cautious of emails, SMSs and phone calls claiming to be from the ATO,” said Savvides. “The ATO will never use threatening language on the phone or in writing, or request personal information via email. If you’re not sure about the validity of any communications, call the ATO directly on their registered phone number.”

It needs to be said that these scams aren’t just going to disappear, even if we’d all like them to, and it comes from the simple fact that they still work, and some people are still being caught out by them and getting infected, which in turn lets the scammer win.

Currently, the ATO scams are more of a problem on Windows computers, but Mac users aren’t completely immune to these attacks and scams, so regardless of what operating system you’re using, you still need to be on alert when these sorts of emails come in, and make sure you have some form of security software loaded on your computer.

If in doubt, however, call the ATO on one of its lines to find out if the email you received was real. We’d hazard a guess that it’s not, especially if it arrived with a ZIP file attached and said that you needed to unzip it to receive the tax refund, but if you don’t believe us, you can still make a phone call to the right people to find out for yourself, that way you won’t get caught in the deceit of another scammer again.