AVG (AU/NZ) Pty Ltd, the distributor of the award-winning AVG anti-virus and Internet security software in Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific, is alerting Australians to the threat to personal identity of the latest scams being created for the tax return season starting on 1 July.
With 2.4 million individuals, or nearly 20 percent of tax payers, using the Australian Tax Office's E-tax electronic tax return service, cyber criminals have discovered a vast new audience for their activities. While the filing of tax returns directly via the E-tax service is secure, other communications are opening Australians to risk.
AVG (AU/NZ) is seeing that, just as paper tax filings can be subject to mischief, Australians are now falling prey to fraudulent e-mails, texts and phone calls purporting to be from tax officials. A new spear phishing e-mail pretending to be from the ATO and offering a quick refund is already in circulation.
"Today, electronic communication is the norm, but it's important not to let your guard down," Lloyd Borrett, Security Evangelist at AVG (AU/NZ), warns. "In upcoming months, when the prospect of tax refunds is on everyone's mind, be alert to e-mails and phone calls about money owed to you by the ATO or the need to recalculate your tax."
While the ATO uses e-mails and SMS for service alerts, it will never request the confirmation, update or disclosure of confidential personal details.
Borrett said: "Think about all the information included in your tax return - your tax file number, details of investments, retirement accounts, employment, property you own, even your children's childcare. In the hands of cyber criminals, your identity and more could be at risk."
AVG (AU/NZ) offers the following tips for individuals filing their returns online. To stay protected and keep personal data exactly where it should be - between you and the ATO:
- Always open your E-tax filing directly from the ATO's site www.ato.gov.au, never click through from an e-mail invitation.
- Always use a secure and trusted Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection - While you could file your taxes using your smartphone or laptop from the neighbourhood coffee shop or the airport, simply don't. File from home or the office where you have a firewall in place and Internet security installed.
- Update your computer's anti-virus software - New online threats are discovered every day. The first line of defence against these attacks is an up-to-date anti-virus program on your computer or smartphone. Before you start compiling your documentation, run an update on your PC and phone's security software to ensure you're fully protected, or download free protection from trusted sites such as www.avgfree.com.au
- E-mail over fax - If you're compiling information with your tax agent or family members from multiple locations, think twice before faxing sensitive materials. E-mail is far more secure, especially if sent and received via a secure Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection and a computer with up-to-date antivirus software. Also ensure you delete those files from your e-mail server once you've filed your return.
- If you receive suspect communication from "the ATO", do not click on any links in an e-mail or answer phone questions. You can report unsolicited e-mails claiming to be from the Australian Tax Office by forwarding the entire email to [email protected]. Keep an eye on the ATO's security page and the Government's Stay Smart Online Alert Service for the latest tax related scams.
"With layers of protection, including a secure network, protected computer or mobile device and cautious use of e-mail and third-party web sites, filing online can be safe and efficient for everyone," Borrett said.
E-tax Essentials from the ATO site are at: www.ato.gov.au/content/39979.htm, while information about ATO specific scams is at: www.ato.gov.au/onlineservices/content.aspx?doc=/content/62347.htm&mnu=41675&mfp=001/002