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The ATO is reminding Australians to protect themselves against identify theft this tax time.
Assistant Commissioner Graham Whyte said identity theft was more common during tax time because of the large number of people lodging tax returns.
“With the amount of personal information being exchanged at tax time, it is a prime opportunity for fraudsters,” Mr Whyte said.
“Highly organised crime networks use a range of methods to steal personal information in order to commit refund fraud.”
In 2014-15, 32,110 cases of identity theft were reported to the ATO. Of these, 22,200 were reported during the peak processing months from July to November.
Over the same period, 677 incidents of identity crime relating to refund fraud were dealt with by the ATO.
Mr Whyte said there are a number of ways Australians can protect themselves against identity theft and refund fraud. It can be as easy as putting a padlock on your letter box or ensuring you have the latest software and security updates on your computer.
“My number one tip is to protect your tax file number by deleting or destroying any record of it from documents before throwing them away. When you contact us or submit a form, we use your TFN to identify you. Fraudsters try to steal TFNs and other personal information so that they can lodge tax returns and other tax forms.
“And just like you would with online banking, you should never share your passwords with anyone and ensure you change them regularly,” Mr Whyte said.
“Although there are a few things you can do to protect your own identity, you can also be confident that we’re doing everything within our power to keep your personal details safe and secure.
“For example, just like your bank, the ATO will now send you a ‘Was this you?’ message via SMS or email when your ATO online account is linked to another myGov account.”
Mr Whyte said while the ATO had seen an increase in identity crime related to refund fraud; new technology is helping it to catch fraudulent behaviour earlier than ever.
“We’re using sophisticated analytics to uncover acts of identity crime and refund fraud, and consistently monitor our online systems to pick up any instances of unusual activity.
“Our systems help us stop incorrect, invalid or fraudulent refunds before they are paid out. This includes placing extra security checks on accounts or adding fraudulent bank accounts to watch lists so refunds will not issue.
“If we think a person’s identity has been compromised, we get in touch with them. Our Client Identity Support Centre provides support to taxpayers who have had their identities stolen, misused or otherwise compromised.”
Mr Whyte said where the ATO uncovers fraudulent activity; it works with law enforcement and other agencies to take action.
“We provide the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission with relevant intelligence and information on any suspected instances of identity crime.
“This is an ongoing relationship where we provide intelligence and support on a continual basis, rather than formal referrals at a point in time. The ATO is often only a part of a much broader identity crime issue, and prosecutions reflect the broader nature of these crimes.