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Tax season brings the scammers out

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It’s tax season – and that means the cybercriminals are hard at work to scam South African taxpayers.

Among the many scams doing the rounds are e-mail pretending to come from South African Revenue Services (SARS), that lead you to infected Web sites or that try and lure them into opening infected attachments? Or scammers offer to complete tax returns and then hold on to any refunds.

Cybercriminals perform phishing attacks on the SARS Web site, send fake refund advice to potential victims and take the tax refund themselves, says Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO of ESET Southern Africa. She offers taxpayers advice on how they can keep their money safe:

How hard is it to tell if an email or text message is truly from SARS?
If there are any words spelt incorrectly this is a sign that it is more than likely a fake e-mail. If you do read the message, it will ask you to open an attachment. The attachment is a file which will, if you click on it, infect your computer with malware. This malware could make your computer a part of a botnet used for denial of service attacks or spamming, or it could steal your credentials for sale on the black market.

Why do criminals keep sending such messages?
Because they work. There are still people who have not heard of these scams or are so eager to get their tax refund that they ignore their better judgement. On top of this, is the sad fact that a lot of people still don’t use good “anti” software, namely anti-virus, anti-spam and anti-phishing (you can often get all three of these rolled into one with products like ESET Smart Security). Using security software stops these types of attacks at multiple levels:
* Blocking e-mails known to be fraudulent;
* Blocking links in e-mails to Web pages that are known to be infected;
* Blocking downloading of attachments containing malware; and
* Blocking execution of malware that has been downloaded.

What is the safest way to file my taxes?
Use a reputable tax consultant, preferably one referred by a trusted friend who has used them in the past. Sadly, even this is no guarantee that you won’t become tax identity theft victim.

What problems can occur if I am a victim of tax identity fraud?
You could potentially find SARS asking you to return money that it paid out in your name to a scam artist, and it might take you a long time to resolve the issue.

When are tax fraud problems at their worst?
There are some “hotspots” in online tax fraud, notably the opening weeks of filing season when scammers can submit returns with fake information. However, the fact that businesses and professionals pay taxes throughout the year in the form of estimated payments make tax identity fraud a profitable year-round criminal endeavour.

What are some other scams around tax time?
The rule that “if something is too good to be true, it is” applies here. Remember, if you fall for these scams, you will still have to pay once you get caught, regardless of what bad advice you got.