“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.”
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.