HMRC phishing scams – how to spot and avoid bogus communications

Fake emails, calls and messages suggesting they are from Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) have grown exponentially in the last five years with many people falling foul to fraudsters. Here, we discuss the latest HMRC cyber scams doing the rounds and how to spot bogus communications.

In 2021, HMRC received more than 670,000 calls from individuals reporting tax scams. Despite a significant drop in reports to HMRC in recent months, statistics show that tax-related scams doubled during the pandemic and HMRC is still advising caution of any correspondence – particularly via text or email – implying it is from the tax authority.

Scams can come in many forms. However, the most common tactic used by fraudsters is contacting potential victims via automated messages. So, what should you look out for?

HMRC email scams

Phishing attacks aren’t new, but the tactics employed by fraudsters have become increasingly sophisticated over the years with many able to replicate email addresses from authorities, such as HMRC, that on first glance look bona fide.

These attacks aim to extract personal information and data from an individual that enables fraudsters to steal identities, bank details and more.

If you receive such an email, you should not reply to it, click on any links in the email or open any attachments. You should also avoid disclosing any personal or payment information. Instead, report it immediately to HMRC by emailing it to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk.

Fake tax rebates

Another common scam is the offer of a tax rebate either via text or email. HMRC will never contact anyone by text or email about tax rebates, so any messages received offering a refund will certainly be fake. If you receive any such message, do not reply but report it to HMRC and then delete it.

Be wary of website links and malicious web pages

One of the most recent social media scams being used to con people is the distribution of direct messages via Twitter offering a tax refund. These messages are not genuine and HMRC will never use social media platforms, such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn, to offer tax rebates or request personal information. Ignore all such messages and report them to HMRC straight away.

HMRC refund companies

Refund companies that send emails or texts advertising their services and offering to apply for a tax rebate on your behalf in return for a fee are not connected with HMRC in any way. Before using any such service, you should read the company’s terms and conditions or disclaimers and think carefully before instructing them to assist you. If in doubt, contact a professional accountant for advice.

HMRC customs duty scams

Changes officially introduced by HMRC on 1 January 2021 mean that some UK consumers buying goods from EU businesses might need to pay customs charges when their goods are delivered. This change in regulations has resulted in a surge of associated email and text scams asking for customs duty payments.

Customers are contacted via false emails or texts and told they must pay customs duty to receive a valuable parcel which doesn’t exist. If you are not expecting any parcel or if you are in any doubt as to the authenticity of such messages, then do not reply. Instead, you should report any suspicious activity to HMRC immediately by emailing phishing@hmrc.gov.uk.

University students taking part-time jobs

According to HMRC, undergraduates taking part-time jobs are at increased risk of falling victim to scams – particularly if they are new to interacting with the tax authority and unfamiliar with its processes.

Between April and May 2021, more than 5,000 phone scams were reported to HMRC by 18 to 24 year olds. The advice is to be wary if you are contacted out of the blue by someone asking for money or personal information.

An HMRC spokesperson, said:

We see high numbers of fraudsters contacting people claiming to be from HMRC. If in doubt, our advice is – do not reply directly to anything suspicious, but contact HMRC through GOV.UK straight away and search GOV.UK for ‘HMRC scams’.

For further information and guidance about HMRC phishing scams, visit HMRC’s official web page https://www.gov.uk/topic/dealing-with-hmrc/phishing-scams.

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