ATO Scam – New Year, New Tactics

Scammers impersonating ATO

Scammers impersonating the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) are making the rounds again; but with the new year comes new tactics.

The scam

This year, scammers are using an ATO number to send Australians a fraudulent text message asking them to click a link to receive a refund.

Scammers are manipulating the calling line identification so that the number displayed at the top of the fraudulent text message matches a previous legitimate text message sent by the ATO.

The ATO’s Assistant Commissioner Karen Foat warns that the scam “is not just targeting your money, but is after your personal information in an attempt to steal your identity”.

While the ATO often delivers information via email and text message, Ms Foat reminds taxpayers that the ATO will never ask you to click on a link, download a file or provide personal or financial information.

The scam is the latest attempt to deceive Australians after scammers pocketed approximately $1.8 million last year by making fraudulent phone calls claiming that they were from the ATO. If you are ever in doubt about the veracity of a call, the ATO recommends hanging up immediately. You can then call the ATO directly to verify if the call was legitimate. You can also report the scam to the ACCC’s Scamwatch. The calls warned people that a warrant had been issued for their arrest for tax offences. While the phone calls were fake, the crimes they allege are very real.

Tax-related offences

2,035 prosecutions for tax offences were instigated following the 2017/2018 financial year.  Failure to comply with taxation requirements is an offence under the Taxation Administration Act (the Act). The Act contains a number of offences such as:

  • Making false or misleading statements
  • Incorrectly keeping records
  • Recklessly making false or misleading statements.

These are strict liability offences, meaning that the prosecution does not need to prove that the taxpayer intended to commit the offence. Evidence that the offence occurred will be sufficient to secure a conviction.

Alternatively, offences may be commenced under the Criminal Code Act. Under the Criminal Code Act, the offences will fall under one of the following categories:

  • Dishonestly obtaining Commonwealth property
  • Obtaining financial advantage by deception
  • Dishonestly causing a loss to the Commonwealth.

The ATO will prosecute relatively straight-forward offences, whereas, defended hearings will be prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

Penalties

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The penalties for tax offences can be quite harsh. They may range from a ‘matter proved but dismissed’ to a custodial sentence. The maximum custodial sentence that may be imposed is ten years. 21 custodial sentences were imposed for serious tax crimes committed during the 2017/2018 financial year.

Other penalties include the imposition of a good behaviour bond, community service order, periodic detention or a suspended sentence.

In addition to the above penalties, the Act gives the court power to order an individual to pay up to three times the amount of their outstanding tax debt.

Charged with a tax offence?

Our lawyers have experience appearing in proceedings led by the Commissioner of the ATO.  They are highly skilled at acting for and defending clients facing charges such as failure to lodge, failure to adhere to a court order and under-reporting.

If you need advice or representation for a tax-related offence, contact Hamilton Janke Lawyers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 4038 1666 (office hours) or 0422 050 502 (24/7).

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