The tax season opened officially on July 1 and many law-abiding taxpayers are getting ready to do their bit. Unfortunately, so too are the shady individuals and gangs who operate phishing scams.
Particularly concerning is the fact that the current crop of fraudsters are sending out email messages about fake refunds which look very realistic and may well fool many an unsuspecting taxpayer.
PwC tax consultant Lida Smit said on Monday the company has recorded an uptick in fake emails claiming to be from Sars, an example of which is shown below:
We have filed your return, we were unable to reach you on your cellphone that is why we are contacting you through E-mail, you have 24 hours to confirm your filing.
Said Smit: “Some of them (fake notifications) are obvious scams which can easily be identified, but the last one we received was sent from an firstname.lastname@example.org address.
“Now, we that work on and with e-filing every day know that this is not legit, but I can understand that someone who is not so familiar with it may get caught.”
She pointed out that PwC has many German clients, who are particularly vulnerable to this kind of fraud.Meanwhile, Fin24 has been inundated by responses from users who have been targeted by these fraudsters.
A worrying factor is that in their emails they are now starting to mention refund amounts that make sense to potential victims.
“What I find scary, is that the amount they mentioned in the fake email is just about as much as my Sars refund was last year. Maybe it becomes even more sinister if it might even be possible that they have access to the Sars database,” wrote a Fin24 user.
A lucky Fin24 user was saved from financial loss by quick thinking on the part of First National Bank, which froze and blocked his wife’s account so that fraudsters were unable to get their hands on any funds.
Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay emphasised that taxpayers must ignore these fake notifications. Sars has created a section on its website to alert South Africans of any scams or phishing attacks.
“Members of the public are randomly emailed with false ‘spoofed’ emails made to look as if these emails were sent from Sars, but (which) are in fact fraudulent emails aimed at enticing unsuspecting taxpayers to part with personal information such as bank account details.
“Examples include emails that appear to be from email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org that tax payers are eligible to receive TAX refunds.
“These emails contain links to false forms and false websites made to look like the ‘real thing’, but with the aim of fooling people into entering personal information such as bank account details which the criminals then extract and use fraudulently.
“Please note these are scams,” Sars warned, adding that the taxman will not request your banking details through the phone, email or websites.
So what to do if you receive an email but aren’t sure if it’s the real thing?
“First obtain verification from the Sars call centre or a branch, for instance. Never give out any details in response to these fake communications,” said Lackay.
A Fin24 user did just that – and discovered to her dismay that instead of Sars owing her money, it was the other way around and she had to pay the taxman an outstanding amount.