The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has identified numerous GST refund fraud attempts, wherein individuals set up a fake business and file falsified business activity statements to claim refunds.
Through Operation Protego, the ATO is investigating potentially fraudulent payments made to around 40,000 individuals, valued at around $850 million.
It says information about the fraud has been circulating online, especially through social media.
“We are working with social media platforms to help remove content promoting this fraud, but if you see something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Will Day, ATO Deputy Commissioner and Chief of the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce.
The ATO, along with law enforcement agencies, are looking into all those involved, including individuals who might have unwittingly participated in the fraud.
“People who have participated in this fraud may have unwittingly followed advice they have read online, claiming to help access a loan from the ATO, or receive other financial government support such as a disaster payment,” Mr Day explained.
“However, for others there was nothing accidental or unintentional about setting up a fake business in their own name and seeking an unearned refund.”
While the investigations continue and tighter controls are in place, legitimate businesses may face additional steps while registering for an Australian Business Number (ABN) and GST and receiving their refunds.
“Unfortunately, as we take action to protect revenue some legitimate taxpayers may find they have to take extra steps to receive their legitimate refunds as we have put extra controls in place as a result of this fraud. But we must emphasise that the fraudsters are not real or legitimate small businesses,” Mr Day added.
Businesses are reminded that the ATO does not offer loans or administer COVID disaster payments, so any advertisements on the contrary are not legitimate.
Anyone who might have become involved in this arrangement is encouraged to reach out to the ATO on a voluntary basis by calling 1300 130 017.
Individuals concerned they may have become involved due to compromised identity should call 1800 467 033 to put additional controls on their account.