Avoid an ambush by fraudsters

THE South African Revenue Service (SARS) emblem alone is enough to prejudice one’s health.

Urban legend has it that a taxpayer suffered a heart attack when he received a letter from SARS. Later, when it was opened, it contained a notice of a refund.

Taxpayers panic, especially if they do not have ready access to tax advisers, which can make them easy targets for fraudsters. The SARS website has a section devoted to fraud and internet phishing.

When in doubt, make this the first port of call. The first giveaway in a fraudulent SARS internet communication is the name of the sender. If it is not SARS or eFiling, then it could easily be a scam. Watch specifically for sars.co.za. Remember, it is sars.gov.za.

Never disclose a bank account unless logged on to the SARS eFiling platform. And never make a payment to SARS other than through eFiling or your own bank’s Receiver of Revenue platforms.

It is also unusual and unnecessary to transfer funds to tax advisers for subsequent payment to SARS.

There are fraudsters who pose as tax inspectors making surprise visits. Nobody is under the faintest obligation to deal with a SARS official not carrying an identity card from the service. SARS officials are also not allowed to conduct inspections alone.

Generally, they cannot arrive unannounced. If they do, they can inspect the business premises only to establish whether the taxpayer is registered and maintaining records. In extreme cases, they may obtain a court warrant to conduct an unannounced search-and-seizure raid.

Otherwise, SARS must make an appointment before commencing an on-site audit. Then SARS officials must produce a letter signed by a senior official setting out the scope of the audit.

Even when SARS conducts an audit, there is no right to search and seizure. SARS must request documentation and the taxpayer must provide copies. Nothing other than copies can leave the premises without the taxpayer’s consent. SARS inspection teams have little part to play in the collection process. It is highly unusual for a SARS auditor to demand payment.

Originally published in the Sunday Times: Money & Careers Tax Talk column.

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