ATO zeroes in on COVID-19 fraud

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THE Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is building on its significant efforts zeroing in on fraud and schemes designed to take advantage of the government’s COVID-19 stimulus package. This includes JobKeeper, early release of superannuation, and boosting cash flow for employers.

ATO Deputy Commissioner Will Day said that with so many Australians impacted by COVID-19, the ATO’s priority is to ensure payments get to those who need them.

“We know the overwhelming majority of Australians are honest, and we’ve worked hard to help those people who are impacted by COVID-19 as quickly as possible.”

“We also have an important role to ensure the integrity of the stimulus measures and when we uncover fraud or people seeking to exploit them, we’ll take action, as we know the community would expect us to do.”

To ensure the integrity of the tax and superannuation systems, the ATO has access to a large number of data sources that it uses to assess the risk of inappropriate behaviour. These sources include Single Touch Payroll, income tax returns, and information reported to us by super funds, as well as data from various third-party sources.

The community also offers the ATO valuable information where there may be suspected wrongdoing. “We’ve established a confidential tip-off line and we take all information referred to us seriously. If members of the community are concerned that someone is doing the wrong thing, they should tell us about it by completing a tip-off form online at ato.gov.au/tipoff or by calling 1800 060 062,” Mr Day said.

The ATO has also made it clear it will not tolerate illegal behaviour or development of schemes that are designed to deliberately exploit these measures, seek to avoid tax, or prey on vulnerable Australians. The agency has already seen some examples of fraud and fraudulent attempts or people developing schemes to try to steal money from the community.

“We’ve received intelligence about a number of dodgy schemes, including the withdrawal of money from superannuation and re-contributing it to get a tax deduction. Not only is this not in the spirit of the measure (which is designed to assist those experiencing hardship), severe penalties can be applied to tax avoidance schemes or those found to be breaking the law. If someone recommends something like this that seems too good to be true, well, it probably is,” Mr Day said.

Penalties for fraud can include financial penalties, prosecution, and imprisonment for the most serious cases.

“It’s important to carefully check eligibility requirements before applying for any of the measures. Eligibility requirements for each of the measures are outlined on the ATO’s website. If you’re not sure, the best thing to do is check with the ATO or your tax professional.”

“Our tax system works on a self-assessment model. We will generally operate on the basis Australians are honest, meaning we will accept the information we are provided with as true and correct and make payments. However, we will be conducting checks later, so if you’ve received a benefit as part of the COVID-19 stimulus measures and we discover you are ineligible, you can expect to hear from us. If you think this may apply to you, you should contact us or speak to your tax professional,” Mr Day said.

“It is much better to come forward to make a voluntary disclosure than waiting to be audited. If in doubt on how to proceed, we recommend seeking the advice of a tax professional.”

Mr Day also reminded the community to protect their identities and be vigilant of scammers at this time.

“If you receive a text message or e-mail stating that your myGov details have been changed, or that you have applied for early release of super and you have not, don’t ignore these messages: check your myGov, call the ATO or your super fund to make sure your identity has not been compromised. But don’t click on any links – one technique used by scammers to steal your information is to mock-up messages which appear to be from the ATO.”

First published in the Frankston Times – 27 July 2020

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