The ATO and Australian Federal Police (AFP) have revealed up to 150 cases of fraud, involving $120,000 of superannuation money, may have taken place in relation to the early access to superannuation scheme.
The regulator gave notice via its website that the fraudulent activity was related to the unlawful use of personal details in an effort to defraud the program and had been undertaken by a small number of people.
ATO commissioner Chris Jordan repeated the statements in his opening comments to a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19, which took place earlier today.
In questioning from the committee, Jordan added the regulator’s systems had not been hacked or compromised in any way, but there were intermediaries who also had access to ATO systems and were involved in taxation affairs of individuals.
Responding to the same question, AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw said there was no intrusion into any government systems, but a third party had been used to engage in the fraudulent activity.
“We have our cyberteam on this and there has been an intrusion into a third party so we are looking into that and how that system was intruded and the actions taken from there,” Kershaw said, adding the activity was sophisticated in nature and may have been the work of organised crime or offshore parties.
The AFP commissioner also said the activity was not directed towards a single superannuation fund, but did not provide further details as to the number of funds, and noted the exact number of cases was still under investigation.
“We are in the early stages of investigation, but what we can say is we have executed five search warrants in relation to this matter,” he said.
“Our assessment, so far, is there are up to 150 victims of this particular fraud and we have identified some bank accounts and had those frozen, with approximately $120,000 all up.”
Kershaw said the AFP had been in contact with superannuation fund members who were impacted by the activity to ascertain if fraud had taken place.
“We are working with the ATO, and relevant super funds as well, in relation to establishing, first of all, [there are] up to 150 possible victims because we are having to resolve if it has legitimately gone to that client or not,” he said.
“There is still a lot of work to do, but our early assessment is that it could be up to 150 who have had up to $10,000 defrauded from their superannuation fund.”
He said the AFP was working with the ATO, AUSTRAC, an alliance of government departments and financial institutions and the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce. The AFP action began after it received a referral on the matter on 1 May from AUSTRAC.
Addressing the committee, ATO client engagement group second commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn said the regulator referred the matter immediately after becoming aware of the fraud on 30 April and relevant government ministers were informed at the start of this week.
In his opening comments, Jordan said the early release program had approved more than 1 million applications totalling over $9 billion and emphasised the need for all superannuation fund members to keep their information secure and private.