Mr Ayres said NSW Fair Trading had received a report yesterday of a scam letter offering landlords living overseas the opportunity to claim tax exemption on rental income.
“The CEO of the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales Tim McKibbin reported receiving the scam email, which was sent to the REI helpline,” he said.
“The scam email advises agencies managing landlords to forward forms to them to complete and return to the scammers.
“The forms require detailed personal information as well as photocopies of passports and mortgage account numbers. The covering letter in the scam email is badly written with numerous errors of grammar and spelling.
“It is designed to harvest details from real estate agents about Australian properties they manage on behalf of non-residents.
“The scammers may then seek to assume the identities of non-residents and sell their properties without the real owners’ knowledge.”
Mr Ayres said Fair Trading had issued a warning about the same scam in July last year after it was reported by a real estate agent in Lennox Head.
“The ATO confirmed the scam to Fair Trading and that identical fake Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) letters had been sent to real estate agents in the United Kingdom since at least March 2012,” he said.
A copy of the fake ATO letter is available on the Fair Trading website and attached for the information of the public and media and especially the real estate industry in NSW.
The HMRC and ATO signature on the scam letters is identical and in some places in the ATO letter, the scammers have failed to replace the HMRC references.
These types of widely circulated scams are regularly sent to other international jurisdictions and the perpetrators often fail to change all details.
A similar scam was identified in Western Australia in 2012
ATO Chief Technology Officer Todd Heather said the ATO‘s brand was often employed in scams due to the tax office’s intensive interaction with the community and their willingness to comply with requests from the ATO.
“Scammers are relying on more sophisticated methods to trick people into handing over their financial or personal contact details,” he said.
“This scam, as with many others reported to the ATO, asks people for their personal details so they can likely commit identity theft and other types of fraud.
“We have seen this scam over the past two years and have dealt with it by informing real estate industry associations and asking them to warn their members.”
In 2013, the ATO received 49,645 reports from the public about ATO branded scams.
Fair Trading advice to avoid being scammed:
• Don’t respond to offers, deals or requests for your personal details. Stop. Take
time to independently check the request or offer.
• Never send money or give credit card, account or other personal details to anyone who makes unsolicited offers or requests for your information.
• Don’t rely on glowing testimonials: find solid evidence from independent sources (not those provided with the offer).
• Never respond to out of the blue requests for your personal details.
• Always type in the address of the website of a bank, business or authority you are interested in to ensure you are logging onto the genuine website.
• Don’t open unsolicited emails.
• Never click on a link provided in an unsolicited email as it will probably lead to a fake website designed to trick you into providing personal details.
• Never use phone numbers provided with unsolicited requests or offers because they could connect you to fakes who will try to trap you with lies.
• Don’t reply to unsolicited text messages from numbers you don’t recognise.
• Always look up phone numbers in an independent directory when you wish to check if a request or offer is genuine.
• Don’t dial a 0055 or 1900 number unless you are sure you know how much you will be charged.