Australian Tax Office – three words that, for most working Australians are associated with feelings of dread. We know that the Australian Tax Office (ATO) is responsible for relieving us of the opportunity to spend at least a third of our income (always a disappointing outcome).

Blog: Australian Tax Office

In addition, the consequence of providing incorrect information to the ATO deliberately or inadvertently often lurks in the recesses of our minds usually with extremely bad imagined outcomes.

There are two main exceptions to this generalisation.

The first are those of us who deal with the ATO on a regular basis as part of our employment or business. Knowing what can and can’t be done and how to achieve the best outcomes on a daily basis builds familiarity and reduces the “fear factor”. To a certain extent, we are able to pass this fear reduction onto our clients who trust us to “protect” them from adverse ATO activities.

But it is the second group I want to focus on. The members of this group associate the words “Australian Tax Office” with one word – opportunity.

These are the scammers of society who are able to use technology and an apparent association with the ATO to convince their victims to part with cash or important information because the ATO requires compliance.

Tax professionals are regularly updated by the ATO regarding the latest scams and I am always struck by two aspects – the relatively unsophisticated nature of the scam and (of course) the suffering of the victims.

Broadly there are two types of scams.

There is the “The ATO has reviewed your returns and you are entitled to a refund. Please send us your bank account details so we can pay it to you” ploy. This is usually sent as an email and, these days, the emails do look very authentic.

The more recent type of scam is the very aggressive phone call from “The Australian Tax Office” advising that a liability to the ATO exists and that, to avoid going to jail, immediate payment is required.

Clearly, the latter scam would be unsettling for most people and the desire to make it all go away by complying with the demands is (unfortunately) a reasonably common response.

Naturally the ATO is keen to identify/locate the scammers and there is a lot of helpful information on their website on what to do if you are contacted by someone you think may be a scammer (call 132861). If your tax affairs are managed by a tax professional, contact them as a less stress option.

Being aware of the scammer’s tactics is a great defence. Whatever the feelings you associate with the ATO, standover tactics are rarely part of their initial approach.