The federal opposition is calling on the Australian Taxation Office to urgently strengthen its fraud detection systems after $200,000 was allegedly stolen from people’s superannuation accounts.
The Australian Federal Police revealed on Thursday that it had frozen $200,000 across more than 50 bank accounts suspected of defrauding the government’s early super access scheme, which allows members suffering financial hardship to withdraw another $10,000 from their superannuation until September 24.
Labor MP Stephen Jones said the reports were unsurprising given the government rushed the implementation of the scheme and payment approvals are automatic and based on self-assessment.
“Of course you’re going to attract criminals and fraudsters to such a scheme,” Mr Jones said.
We warned the government in Parliament that, if they didn’t put in place the right checks and balances, this is exactly what would happen.”
Mr Jones told The New Daily there was no shortage of options for the ATO and government to consider to beef up the scheme’s defences.
“The tax office has got payroll data and the capacity to do data matching. It has got a whole bunch of mechanisms available to it,” Mr Jones said.
“They have just decided not to use them.”
Following an investigation, AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said criminal syndicates were behind the fraudulent activity, which has also targeted the government’s JobSeeker and JobKeeper schemes.
Commissioner Kershaw said they had defrauded the scheme by creating fake MyGov accounts after stealing people’s details from private-sector tax agents, rather than breaching government systems.
“I don’t think it’s been easy. They have exploited private enterprise in particular and that’s an area we hadn’t seen before rather than exploiting any of the government systems,” Commissioner Kershaw told the ABC.
Up to 150 people are believed to have had some of their superannuation stolen – almost two months after the AFP reported a similar instance of fraud in May.
A spokesperson from the ATO confirmed to The New Daily that investigations into fraudulent activity are ongoing and “a priority for the ATO-led joint-agency Serious Financial Crime Taskforce (SFCT)”.
“The particular technique which used personal details unlawfully in a bid to defraud the program has been stopped and the impacted individuals have been contacted,” the spokesperson said.
“The ATO is working in close co-operation with the AFP and the other members of the taskforce on these matters.
“This activity sends a clear message that we are committed to tackling any illegal behaviour and protecting the government’s COVID-19 economic support.”
The ATO said it has made a number of modifications to “further bolster the already strong levels of security around the early release of super scheme, which helped to pick up the fraudulent activity”.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters the fact members of the public had heard about the fraud is evidence of the strong enforcement actions taken by the AFP and government to protect the scheme against such attacks.
“What that is a demonstration of is that the AFP is doing their job to protect people in exactly the way that you suggest,” Mr Morrison said.
The reports come after Industry Super Australia published research on Wednesday showing that 480,000 Australians have completely wiped out their superannuation savings by accessing early withdrawals.
Mr Jones said that was a “travesty”.
These people will lose between $40,000 and $100,000 [at retirement], and many of them will never be able to catch up – it’s the equivalent of having to work an extra three to four years post-retirement,” he said.
“And at the same time as it has encouraged people to raid their superannuation accounts, the government is seriously contemplating reversing the superannuation guarantee level.
“They have gone to war on retirement savings.”
Mr Jones said the early super access scheme, which has so far paid out $17.1 billion to roughly 2.3 million Australians, will ultimately push more people onto the state pension – forcing future governments to either increase taxes, or make cuts to the pension.
“They are the two options,” he said. “It’s stark.”
The New Daily is owned by Industry Super Holdings