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ATO 'Final Estimated Refund' Phishing Scam


Outline

Message purporting to be from the Australian Taxation Office claims that the recipient can claim a tax refund of $585.15 by following a link and filling in a claim form.

Facebook phising
© Depositphotos.com/ panama555

Brief Analysis

The message is not from the ATO. It is a phishing scam designed to trick recipients into divulging personal and financial information to criminals. It is just the latest incarnation in a series of 'tax refund' scams that have targeted taxpayers in several countries for a number of years. If you receive one of these fake tax refund emails, do not click any links or open any attachments that it contains.

Example

Dear [Email address removed]

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity, we are glad to inform you that your final estimated refund is $585.15 AUD. Your Tax File Number is:

To access the form for your tax refund, please visit the link bellow:
(Link removed)

How long until my return will be processed? We will generally process it within 12 after completing the form. In some cases such as peak periods the processing time could take longer. If your refund appears to be delayed, you can make a formal enquiry.

Kindly complete the tax refund form in order to start the refund process.

Warm Regards,
Australian Taxation Office

ATO Final Refund Phishing Scam


Detailed Analysis

According to this seemingly official tax notification message, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has completed annual calculations of the recipient's fiscal activity and come up with a 'final estimated refund' of $585.15. A link in the email opens a webpage that supposedly hosts a form that allows the recipient to claim the unexpected refund.

However, the email is not from the ATO and the supposed tax refund is imaginary. The message is a typical tax refund phishing scam designed to trick recipients into giving sensitive personal and financial information to cybercriminals. In an effort to appear legitimate, the email includes official ATO logos and formatting. It also users the recipient's email address in an attempt to personalize the greeting and the link to the scam website.

These factors may cause less Internet savvy users to believe the claims in the message and click the 'refund form' link as instructed. Those who do click will be presented with a form that asks for personal information such as their address details, tax file number, driver's licence number and other details that are supposedly required to prove their identity and right to claim the refund. The bogus form will also ask for credit card and other financial data, ostensibly to allow the refund to be processed.

Alas, all of this data will be collected by the criminals operating the scam and used for credit card fraud and identity theft. In fact, this version is just one incarnation in a series of fake ATO tax refund messages that have targeted Australian taxpayers for several years.

The ATO has published information about these phishing scams on its website, noting:
We can only calculate tax refunds after you have reported information to us about your financial activity for the year. Based on that information, we automatically pay any refund due into your nominated bank account or send you a cheque. [..]

Any SMS or email that requests additional information before a refund can be released is a hoax.
Wherever you live in the world, watch out for tax refund scam emails like the one discussed above. Very similar scams have targeted taxpayers in the US, UK, South Africa and India. If you receive such an email, do not click any links or open any attachments that it contains.



Last updated: April 30, 2014
First published: April 30, 2014
Written by Brett M. Christensen
About Hoax-Slayer

References
Recognising and avoiding tax scams and fraud
IRS Tax Refund Phishing Scam
HM Revenue & Customs 'Unclaimed Refund' Phishing Scam
South African Revenue Service Tax Refund Phishing Scam
Indian Department of Revenue Tax Refund Scam