The number of scam emails, especially those purporting to be from the ATO, seems to have been on the rise lately. This type of email is called phishing, and the aim of them is to acquire sensitive personal information such as usernames and passwords, credit card and bank account details and sometimes money by pretending to be a legitimate communication from a trustworthy source (or the ATO!).

I regularly receive them to my own work and personal emails and at first they were a real pain in the neck, but now I see them so often that I just delete them without a second thought and my only real concern is if any of my clients or my mum would know not to click on anything except the delete button.

How do you spot a scam email? 

Here are six tips to help you recognise a phishing email are:

  1. Do you have anything to do with this institution? If you get an email supposedly from a bank you aren’t a customer of, how can that be?
  2. Have you ever given your email address to this institution? When we do your tax return we don’t give the ATO your email address. We always want to be the first point of contact when the ATO chases you for something!
  3. Any link provided might look legitimate, but if you hover your mouse cursor over it what is the actual link that is previewed? If it’s gibberish then assume it’s fake!
  4. Be wary of any attachments, particularly .zip files. Most emailing systems won’t let you send emails with file types that might be threatening, but they can be hidden in .zip files.
  5. Is there a dollar amount quoted as AUD? The ATO and Australian banks would only deal with you in AUD, wouldn’t they? So why would any amount be quoted as “AUD”? The ATO wouldn’t be giving you a refund of Japanese Yen, would they?
  6. Does the terminology seem strange? I don’t think I’ve ever heard an Australian use the term “fiscal activity”, and “click here or follow the link below” makes no sense as they both mean the exact same thing.

Recently, reports of telephone calls from scammers purporting to be from the ATO have been on the rise. The ATO has issued a warning to taxpayers1 to be aware of a phone scam intimidating people into paying a fake tax debt over the phone. Taxpayers need to know that they will never be cold-called by the ATO about a debt or threatened with jail or arrest. A reminder letter or SMS will be sent about a due payment at first.

I’m always glad when a client forwards an email to me to ask “hey, is this for real?” I think that is really the smart thing to do if you’re not sure. If you receive any email, phone call or letter that you’re unsure about please contact us at Optima Partners to help you determine its legitimacy.



Daniel Causerano

Snr Accountant – Optima Partners



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