ATO warns of scammers targeting small business

- December 6, 2019 2 MIN READ

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) is alerting small business owners and individuals to beware of scammers taking advantage of tax payment deadlines to con people into paying out funds.

Historically the period from November to January is the peak time for cybercriminals to hit unsuspecting businesses. The ATO reports over $2 million was lost by businesses to scammers during this timeframe in 2018.

Assistant Commissioner Karen Foat said scammers techniques are increasingly sophisticated, 

“They are getting better at impersonating large organisations and ramp up in periods where people expect to hear from us, to make their threats appear more legitimate.

“While some taxpayers will have tax payments due from November, the ATO will always let you know how much you owe and the due date when we send your notice of assessment. If you’re unsure, you can check if you have a legitimate debt anytime by logging into your myGov account, or by contacting us or your tax agent,” Foat said.

While scammers may be getting more sophisticated, Foat reports the public is becoming savvier.

“Our work to inform the community has paid off. We are seeing an increase in the number of people reporting scams and a decrease in the number of people handing over money to scammers. But any money going to scammers is too much.

Nonetheless so far this year, 622 people paid over $2.1 million to scammers impersonating the ATO.

“We see these ATO impersonation scams by phone, email, SMS and even through message apps such as WhatsApp. We’ve also recently spotted scammers using the cardless cash feature offered by many banks. Through this feature, victims are sent codes to withdraw cash from an ATM, which they then read out to the scammer. 

“In October, we also saw a spike in email and SMS scams, often asking people to update their personal details. These scams usually contain links to fake online services to get personal information that enables scammers to steal your identity,” Foat said.

If you receive a call, email or SMS and aren’t sure, Foat says it’s OK to hang up or not respond. Instead, she suggests phoning the ATO’s dedicated scam line 1800 008 540 to check if it was legitimate. You can also report a scam online at

Remember, the ATO will never:

  • use aggressive or rude behaviour, or threaten you with immediate arrest, jail or deportation
  • project our number onto your caller ID – so people can be sure that if there’s a number on their caller ID, it’s not the ATO calling
  • request payment of a debt via cardless cash, iTunes or Google Play cards, pre-paid Visa cards, cryptocurrency, or direct credit to a personal bank account
  • send an email or SMS requesting you click on a hyperlink to log on to government services

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