The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) have swooped on a group of individuals suspected of targeting students via Facebook and using their tax file numbers for fraud.
The ATO is alleging that the group targeted students from south-western Sydney high schools — sometimes using Facebook — to obtain tax file numbers, names, addresses and dates of birth. The ATO alleges that the group would then use the stolen information to claim fraudulent Education Tax Refunds.
The Education Tax Refund allows individuals to claim expenses related to home computers and laptops, home internet connections, computer peripherals, uniforms and text books related to the education of primary and secondary students.
According to the ATO, the operation saw computers and records seized after data-matching operations highlighted their potentially fraudulent actions.
Data matching sees the tax office identify fraud once tax returns are lodged, rather than attempt to detect fraudulent returns beforehand. Computers carry out automatic checks first, and then, if a match is made, the system flags it for an ATO employee to follow up, with the ATO matching around 500 million data records each year.
A recent study by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that data matching is more effective than some measures put in place to detect fraud in the first place.
Despite the success of data-matching operations, taxation commissioner Michael D'Ascenzo encourages individuals to come forward with any information on tax fraud in their area.
"To report suspected tax evasion and fraud, call 1800 060 062 during business hours. Your call will be confidential, with no strings attached, and your name will not be linked to any investigations," D'Ascenzo said.
"Australians do not tolerate tax fraud. Make no mistake — if people try to make claims they know they are not entitled to, they are likely to be caught, with serious consequences," he added.