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TAX

German-Swiss tax fraud row grows

Accusations that Swiss banks are helping German citizens dodge taxes grew Saturday, as Switzerland's President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf dismissed the charges.

German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reported that tax authorities were investigating Swiss bank Julius Bär as well as the banking giant UBS, suspected of transferring German clients' funds to Asia, including Singapore.

Widmer-Schlumpf for her part told Swiss newspapers there was no evidence of this practice, adding, "The banks have pledged not to make this sort of transfer for tax reasons."

She noted that a Swiss-German agreement yet to be ratified provided for German assets in Swiss banks to be taxed in Switzerland.

FAZ quoted western North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state tax official Manfred Lehmann as saying that illegal movements of cash to Asia by a "hard core" of tax evaders had been observed for some time.

State tax authorities allege Swiss banks are aiding German clients to evade tax by routing funds through their branches in such centres as Hong Kong, China and Singapore.

The daily said that Julius Bär had warned customers that they might figure on a compact disc of data on German clients of Swiss banks suspected of tax evasion recently bought by NRW authorities.

Quoting legal sources, it said some of them had already been consulting lawyers on the issue.

The purchase of bank data by the NRW government has angered the German federal and Swiss authorities, which want to ban the practice under the new treaty.

But NRW finance minister Norbert Walter-Borjans said Friday that it was "an important part" of the tax fraud investigations by Germany's most populous region.

He said NRW had so far spent a "one-digit amount in the millions" on buying the data, which had reaped "approximately 300 million" euros of evaded taxes.

Germany and Switzerland became embroiled in a major row in 2010 when German authorities raided branches of Credit Suisse bank in 13 German cities after buying data on suspected tax dodgers.

Switzerland reacted angrily, saying the data — bought for a reported €2.5 million — was stolen in violation of its banking secrecy laws.

The tax treaty still has to be ratified by the upper house of the German parliament, where majority opposition social democrats and Greens consider it to be too soft on evaders.

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FRAUD

How to avoid the most common online scams in Switzerland

Swiss authorities are warning the public against the most common current online, telephone and postal scams and issuing useful advice on how to avoid these shady schemes.

How to avoid the most common online scams in Switzerland
Beware of scams circulating in Switzerland. Photo by Greg Baker / AFP

The number of attempts to extort money from unsuspecting individuals is on the rise in Switzerland, and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), as well as other authorities, are advising the public to be vigilant of any scheme asking for bank account or credit card numbers.

These are some of the most common scams that should ring alarm bells:

Tax arrears

Geneva officials have alerted taxpayers not to fall victim to telephone scams where the callers identify themselves as employees of the cantonal tax office. The person is told that he or she owes money for unpaid taxes, and callers demand the number of the bank account to withdraw the amount owed.

In case the taxpayer refuses, fake employees threaten the victim with a 200,000-franc fine. If the person is elderly — often the most vulnerable victim — the scammers exert pressure by saying their social security payments will be suspended until payment is made.   

Geneva authorities urge the public to inform the police if they receive such a phone call.

READ MORE: Switzerland: Zug residents receive fake letters telling them to quarantine

Package delivery against payment

You may receive an email, supposedly from well-known parcel delivery services, notifying you that a package addressed to you will be delivered once payment is made.

The parcel notification email contains a link to a page asking for credit card details or to activate a service on the mobile phone by sending a text message.

IT support

A caller pretending to be an employee of Microsoft or another IT company tells you that your computer is infected with a virus and new software has to be installed.

The aim of these cyber-attackers is to trick you into downloading a program that will give them access to your computer. 

In most cases, the callers will also try to sell you software licence or another service by asking for your credit card information.

Competitions and prizes

You may get emails, allegedly from well-known Swiss retailers, promising you vouchers for expensive prizes. But in order to receive them, personal data such as credit card details, name, email address, and mobile phone number have to be entered on a fake website.

The fee is immediately charged to your credit card and, unbeknownst to you, you will take out an expensive long-term subscription to a product or service you may or may not get.

The list of all the current scams in Switzerland is here.

If you receive any of the above or similar messages by post, email or phone, the NCSC advises to:

  • Ignore these messages by hanging up the phone and / or deleting emails, moving them to the Spam folder
  • Never give out your credit card number or bank account information to people you don’t know
  • If you did give your card number, contact your credit card company immediately to have the card blocked. Likewise, if you gave out your banking details, get in touch with your bank.
  • In the event of financial loss, the NCSC recommends filing a criminal complaint with the cantonal prosecution authorities. You can search for police stations in your area and their telephone numbers on the Police website.

A good rule to remember is that if an offer or a deal sound too good to be true, or if threats and pressure are involved, they are more than likely scams.

READ MORE: Swiss public warned about fake emails sent from banks and police

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