According to the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), tax-time scams in 2018 saw more than 114,000 reports and $2.8 million in reported losses, up from $2.4 million in 2017.
“Tax time is a busy time of year for more than just the tax profession. Criminals are particularly active during tax time, and it pays to know what you can do to help keep your practice and your clients safe,” the ATO said.
According to the Tax Office, practitioners can make their practice more secure by checking proof of identity for all new clients and questioning discrepancies before you prepare and lodge their returns.
They should also regularly review staff accesses and immediately cancel AUSkey access for anyone who shouldn’t have one.
Tax practitioners should also keep their devices up to date by installing the latest security updates; running regular antivirus scans; and using a spam filter on email accounts and exercising caution when downloading attachments or clicking links in emails, text messages or social media posts, even if they appear to come from someone trusted.
According to the ACSC, some common tax scams that affect both tax agents and their clients include invoice scams, ransomware and the fake tax-debt scam.
In the invoice scam, a Northern Territory tax agent came close to getting duped of $20,000 after a scammer had impersonated a national labour hire firm that he used to employ extra staff during the peak June-to-October tax return period.
The scammer had sent the tax agent an email invoice for urgent payment using the labour hire firm’s logo and branding but was ultimately foiled when the agent found a spelling error in the email and had personally consulted with the contractors.
Ransomware emails also continue to be sent widely, with one Fitzroy tax agent unfortunately clicking on a link of a seemingly trusted email, locking up her work laptop and the three desktop computers used by her staff.
The fake tax-debt scam is usually received over the phone, where victims are tricked into thinking they’re speaking to a tax professional.
In one case, a taxpayer was told he had an overdue tax debt by a fraudster impersonating an ATO officer. The taxpayer was duped into providing his tax agent’s phone number, with the fraudster conference-calling a second fraudster, acting as a fake tax agent.
The taxpayer was ultimately tricked into repaying the fake debt through gift cards purchased at a supermarket.
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Jotham Lian is the editor of Accountants Daily, the leading source of breaking news, analysis and insight for Australian accounting professionals.
Before joining the team in 2017, Jotham wrote for a range of national mastheads including the Sydney Morning Herald, and Channel NewsAsia.