Cape Town - Tax filing season has barely started and the first phishing emails are already doing the rounds, making it essential for taxpayers to be on high alert.
"It's open season for criminals during tax season," Lesedi Seforo, team leader of Sars Operations at the South African Institute of Tax Professionals (Sait), warned on Friday.
Scams and phishing attacks have unfortunately become more and more commonplace in today’s electronic world, said Seforo.
Taxpayers are increasingly filing their returns through eFiling, which make them easy targets for scammers. On Wednesday alone, the first day of the tax filing season, more than 29 400 tax returns were filed via eFiling, according to the South African Revenue Service (Sars). That compares with 17 000 tax returns submitted at branches and mobile units across the country.
By Friday morning, 171 568 South Africans had filed their tax, according to the Sars website.
Seforo - who was responding after taxpayer Jacky G (not his real name) alerted Fin24 on Wednesday evening that he had received several emails shortly after filing his return online - said taxpayers need to be alert at all times for scams and phishing attacks.
"I just received several emails about eFiling. I realised it was a scam after these guys even tried to help you open savings accounts online," Jacky G told Fin24 in an email.
The coincidence of the phishing emails landing in his inbox shortly after he filed his return made him suspect they came from Sars employees. But Seforo said scammers are everywhere.
He appealed to taxpayers to take note of the following measures to protect themselves against fraudsters:
• Do not open or respond to emails from unknown sources.
• Beware of emails that ask for personal, tax, banking and eFiling details (login credentials, passwords, pins, credit/debit card information, etc) as Sars will never ask taxpayers for such information in an email.
• Sars will not request your banking details through the phone, email or on its own or any other websites.
• Beware of false SMSs.
Scammers prey on people's vulnerabilities and in this case their need for money, so the emails would come from an email address giving them hope of a refund.
"Examples of scams include emails that appear to be from email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org indicating that taxpayers are eligible to receive tax refunds.
"These emails contain links to false forms and false websites made to look like the real thing, but with the aim of fooling people into entering personal information such as bank account details which the criminals then extract and use fraudulently," Seforo warned.
Sars recommends that taxpayers query these emails before taking any action, and that they report phishing to email@example.com. They can also call the Fraud and Anti-Corruption Hotline on 0800 00 2870 or the Sars Contact Centre on 0800 00 7277.
The important deadline dates in the 2015 tax season are:
September 30 2015: Manual/postal submissions
November 27 2015: At a Sars branch (non-provisional)
November 27 2015: eFiling (non-provisional)
January 29 2016: Provisional taxpayers via eFiling