ATO zeroes in on COVID-19 fraud

Severe penalties: The ATO has made it clear it will not tolerate illegal behaviour or development of schemes that are designed to prey on vulnerable Australians.
Severe penalties: The ATO has made it clear it will not tolerate illegal behaviour or development of schemes that are designed to prey on vulnerable Australians.

The Australian Taxation Office is zeroing in on schemes taking advantage of the government's COVID-19 stimulus package. ATO deputy commissioner, Will Day, said 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 help to those people who are impacted by COVID-19 as quickly as possible," he 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."

To ensure the integrity of tax and superannuation systems, the ATO has access to Single Touch Payroll, income tax returns and information from super funds, as well as data from various third-party sources, to assess the risk of inappropriate behaviour.

"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 or by calling 1800 060 062," Mr Day said. 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, it probably is," Mr Day said. Penalties for fraud can include financial penalties, prosecution and imprisonment.

"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. 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 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. Call the ATO to make sure your identity has not been compromised."