Tax office staff suspects in $2 billion GST refund scam

Andrew BrownAAP
Some tax office staff have been linked to a multibillion-dollar fraud scam. (Dan Peled/AAP PHOTOS)
Camera IconSome tax office staff have been linked to a multibillion-dollar fraud scam. (Dan Peled/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

Up to 150 Australian Taxation Office staff have been investigated for suspected involvement in a social media scam that ripped off $2 billion.

In an auditor-general’s report into fraud management of the GST, the tax office revealed it sacked some employees and launched criminal investigations into others who were linked to the widespread rort.

The ATO workers were investigated as part of Operation Protego, set up to target people who benefited from fake GST refunds.

The operation was set up after the tax office received a large increase in refund fraud tip offs, as well as an increase in the number of Australian business number and GST registrations.

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Social media videos also offered advice on how people could claim more money through GST refunds.

The auditor-general report said those suspected of claiming false GST refunds had tried to claim amounts between $38,900 and $2.4 million.

“The ATO has identified 57 per cent of individuals involved in the fraud were in receipt of a government benefit,” its report said.

“Approximately 30 per cent of individuals attempted to obtain a fraudulent refund a second time and 10 per cent attempted a third time.”

Since the operation was set up, more than $2b has been reclaimed by the tax office, while a further $2.7b was stopped from being transferred just before payment was made.

As of August 2023, more than 100 arrests had been made, with 16 convictions.

It’s estimated more than 57,000 people tried to claim the false refund.

The report said among those were 150 tax office staff, who were investigated by the ATO’s internal fraud team.

“A range of treatment strategies have been applied by the ATO, including termination of employment and criminal investigations.”

More than $120 million of financial penalties have been issued to people found to have taken part in the fraudulent scheme.

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