Beware of these scams this tax season – SAFPS

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While millions of South Africans are sweating over their returns after the start of tax season last week, they should also be worried about scams trying to ‘tax’ them out of their money.

South Africans are logging onto the South African Revenue Service (Sars) eFiling website or visiting their local branches to complete their tax returns. “While this is a very busy time for Sars, it is also a very busy time for scammers. Over the past five years, the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) has noticed a growing trend of tax scams targeting individuals who are desperate for cash,” Manie van Schalkwyk, CEO of SAFPS, says.

He warns South African taxpayers against these scams:

Auto-assessments: never take them at face value

“Sars is increasingly gravitating towards an auto-assessment system for qualifying taxpayers. This means that Sars has already done the tax return on your behalf. You then either qualify for a rebate or have to pay money back to Sars.”

While this is legitimate, Van Schalkwyk warns that scammers are now also on board with this trend. “Scammers now contact taxpayers and impersonate Sars. When targeted taxpayers log on to complete their auto-assessment, they are redirected to a proxy website where scammers will use the information they fill in on the form.”

He says the scammers will even produce a fake proof of payment document indicating that a rebate has been paid into the victim’s bank account.

When the tax man is not the tax man

Sars also warns taxpayers of another scam where scammers impersonate Sars officials. They lure you into a trap with an Outstanding Tax Payment notice. The notice, sent via email, replicates Sars’ logo and formatting and warns you that they will be unable to file your tax return for the 2024 tax season until you pay an outstanding amount attached to your tax profile.

The scammers warn that failing to pay the amount by a specific date will result in fines, penalties and potential assessments of your affairs, which could result in a conviction and prison time.

“As you can see, scammers use sophisticated tactics,” Van Schalkwyk warns and adds that before taxpayers act in a panic, they should contact Sars and clarify the situation with them before taking action.

How to spot a tax scam

While a scammer’s work is opportunistic in nature, Van Schalkwyk urges the public not to become complacent. Scammers are well-educated in current fraud tactics and are part of large syndicates that make a living from targeting individuals.

Therefore, scams are becoming increasingly difficult to identify, but Van Schalkwyk cites these tips from Sars to avoid getting caught by these scammers. He says you must pay attention to the following red flags:

  • Be wary if the auto-assessment notice does not come from a @sars.gov.za address. The email should not come from a sub-domain, such as SARS.Assessment.gov.za). If it does, do not open it.
  • The auto-assessment email may contain hostile and threatening language.
  • Be wary if the auto-assessment notice is not directly addressed to you or your business and does not contain your unique tax number.
  • Be wary if the email demands an urgency on your part to avoid penalties.
  • Be wary if the notice contains spelling and grammar mistakes. This is an immediate red flag but is becoming less prevalent as generative AI makes writing correspondence on behalf of users easier.
  • Be wary if the email contains a strange link that you need to click on.

Van Schalkwyk says you must also immediately contact the authorities if:

  • You receive this type of correspondence, have already filed your tax return and do not owe Sars anything.
  • The payment directive refers to specific bank account numbers and not Sars-approved bank references.

He says all banks already have SARS banking details under the public recipient details to make payments easier. You do not have to enter an account number. Simply select the relevant account and add your payment reference number.

 

The Citizen / Ina Opperman