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ATO email scams – How to stay safe
Spam email is a fact of life, and there are many financial scams around. But it seems that ATO scams are on the increase. I’ve received scam emails myself, and I’ve been getting more questions from clients about ATO email fraud.
Is the email from the ATO a scam?
There is a 90% chance that an email purportedly from the ATO is a scam.
Does the ATO communicate via email? Yes, but the information communicated is limited, and they will not send any confidential information via email.
Examples of legitimate ATO email / SMS
The ATO list examples of their email and SMS activity on their website.
These are mostly informational/promotional in nature. For example, you might get an email promoting a new ATO online service, or you might get an ATO newsletter (if you have signed up for it).
In some cases, a business taxpayer (somebody with an ABN) could get a request asking them to call the ATO. This will be to clarify your ABN details or to discuss an activity statement (BAS). This is usually not a major issue, and you can delegate this task to your accountant if they have prepared the BAS for you.
Examples of things the ATO won’t do
The ATO will not send personal information via email, and will not request personal information either. Any email which refers to your tax refund amount, or requests bank details or your TFN is definitely a scam.
Any email that is not from an email with the domain “ato.gov.au” is suspicious. Bad spelling and grammar indicate that the source of the email is dodgy, as does use of American or European terms like “fiscal year” instead of “financial year” or “income year”, or “taxes” instead of “tax”.
Often the emails have the ATO logo and similar font to actual ATO correspondence. Obviously, this is easily copied from the ATO website and is no indicator that the email is legitimate.
How to deal with ATO scam emails
You should treat these emails the same way as you treat any other spam or scam:
- Don’t click on any of the links, or even download the pictures in the email
- Add the sender to your blocked senders list
- Delete the email (or SMS if applicable)
And if you feel community-minded, then send this email around to people you know. A lot of people can detect a scam when they see one. But people who are new to the world of email, or new to the Australian tax system may not be aware that this is going on and could get caught. If the scammers didn’t get any bites, they wouldn’t be doing this. So there must be some victims out there.
ATO online services
If you want to legitimately track your tax affairs online, the ATO has introduced a terrific new interface on its website. Provided you can meet the strict proof of ID requirements you can obtain an online login where you can check the progress of tax returns, view your tax history and even consolidate super accounts into one with the click of a button.
Go to the ATO homepage (www.ato.gov.au) and follow the links.