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ATO doubles down on fraud crackdown

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) said it 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," Day said.

"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."

The ATO said along with its access to a large number of data sources, it is relying on the community to report wrongdoing when they see it.

"We've established a confidential tip-off line and we take all information referred to us seriously," Day said.

"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."

The ATO also made it clear it will not tolerate illegal behaviour or development of schemes that are designed to deliberately exploit the stimulus measures, seek to avoid tax, or prey on vulnerable Australians.

The agency confirmed it has 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," Day said.

"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."

The ATO said penalties for fraud can include financial penalties, prosecution, and imprisonment for the most serious cases.

"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," Day said.

"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."

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," Day said.

"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."

The ATO said serious financial crime affecting the ATO-administered measures of the Commonwealth Coronavirus Economic Response Package has been made a priority for the ATO-led joint-agency Serious Financial Crime Taskforce (SFCT).

The ATO said the SFCT brings together the knowledge, resources and experience of multiple agencies to identify and address the most serious and complex financial crimes.

Read our full COVID-19 news coverage and analysis here.

Read more: ATOCOVID-19ERSAustralian Taxation OfficeEarly Release of SuperWill DayJobKeeperSerious Financial Crime Taskforce
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