Australia’s competition regulator has named the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Home Affairs the most impersonated federal government agencies so far this year.
The pair were the source of more than half the 7100 reports made to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC's) Scamwatch service between 1 January and July 5 for scams that have netted more than $1.26 million.
According to figures released on Tuesday, there were 2389 reports of impersonation scams involving the ATO, which resulted in losses of over $905,000 - by far the highest of any agency.
Impersonation scams involving Home Affairs were the subject of 2016 reports and losses of over $99,000.
The ACCC said these reports had only increased during tax time as Australians seek to access financial hardship schemes.
The ATO is responsible for much of the government’s financial hardship schemes, including the $1500 a fortnight JobKeeper payment and the early release of superannuation.
“Scammers are increasingly taking advantage of the financial difficulties and uncertainty generated from the COVID-19 pandemic to trick unsuspecting Australians,” deputy chair Delia Rickard said.
“We are seeing two main types of scams impersonating government departments; fake government threats and phishing scams.”
“Both of these scams can be quite convincing and can lead to significant financial losses or even identity theft.”
There has also been an uptick in text messages claiming to be from myGov, the portal that many Australian’s use to complete their tax return and access other government services.
Reports of scams involving myGov impersonations came in at 1638, while Services Australia impersonations were the subject of 1070 reports.
The ACCC put myGov and Services Australia scam losses at $105,000 and $94,000, respectively.
The Australian Federal Police was also targeted by scammers over the last six months, with 443 reports of impersonations that resulted in losses of over $176,000.
There were also 67 reports of scams involving federal and state Health departments that netted over $8700.
The ACCC said fake government threat scams often involved victims receiving a robocall, whereby the scammer claims an illegal act like tax fraud has occurred.
Scammers will then attempt to scare people into handing over money - often in the form of gift cards or iTunes vouchers.
Scammers can also use email or text messages that claim to be from an agency to request a person confirm their personal details through a link.