Stay Alert: How to Spot an HMRC Scam
Stay Alert: How to Spot an HMRC Scam
Fake calls, emails, text messages and even social media messages such as from WhatsApp with fraudsters purporting to be contacting you from HMRC are all too common today. Sadly, hundreds of thousands of people fall victim to such scams every year, and at a time where many are facing financial uncertainty, it’s understandable that an increase in numbers will be vulnerable and susceptible to such fraud attacks.
To help keep you vigilant, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on the different types of techniques fraudsters are known to employ so that you can stay one step ahead, protect yourself, and even report to HMRC.
Different Types of HMRC Scam Messages
Fraudsters will use these messaging tactics in order to either try and steal personal information which they may later try to use to access your accounts or convince you to transfer sums of money direct into their own accounts.
- Tax Rebate
It’s easy to be tempted by a message that tells you that you are owed a tax refund. These messages usually include a link asking you to complete a form with bank details so that money can be paid into your account. Beware – these forms often aim to collect sensitive personal information too such as your mother’s maiden name and other common security questions. Fraudsters can then use this information to reset passwords and gain access to your other personal accounts.
The first thing that should alert you that these messages are fake is to know that HMRC will never send you notification regarding a rebate via email or text, they will always be sent by post. Before being lured into false promises of a tax refund, you should also take a moment to think whether you’re due to expect one or not. For those who believe they are due a refund, the coincidental timing of receiving a scam message may seem even more convincing, however we would urge you to double check with your accountants first before clicking on any links or submitting any personal information.
- Goodwill Payment
This is one of the newest scam attempts that has been repeatedly reported to HMRC in recent times. Taking advantage of the unprecedented situation surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, fraudsters are trying their luck with those who may be more gullible to positive messages during times of uncertainty. Goodwill payment messages often arrive in the form of a text message advising the recipient that HMRC are issuing a small payment as a gesture of goodwill as part of government plans to support as many people as possible. The text may contain a link for you to enter personal information, claiming this is needed in order to put the payment into your account.
These messages are able to convince people they are legitimate through confusion. As there have been so many different schemes released by the Chancellor throughout the past couple of months, it can be difficult for people to keep up with what is available to them and whether they are eligible to receive certain support schemes or not. It is important to remember that HMRC will never issue payments for no reason and there will be eligibility criteria that needs to be fulfilled.
- Tax Penalty
You may come across multiple variations of this type of scam message. Some will accuse you of filing your tax return incorrectly or late and therefore claim HMRC are issuing you with a fine. Other newer adaptations include allegations that there is evidence of you leaving your home multiple times during the Coronavirus lockdown order and ordering you to pay a penalty.
Fraudsters will aim to put their victims off balance from rational reasoning by causing distress and panic through threatening the victim with a fine. They will add pressure and urgency by insisting fines need to be paid immediately or result in increased penalties. This is how they will trick many into paying sums of money direct into their own bank accounts.
Whilst HMRC do issue automatic penalties for late submission of tax returns and also increase the fine the longer you take to pay it, they will never force you to pay immediately. For anyone who is struggling to settle debt with HMRC, we would advise you to speak to the Payment Support Service who will be able to discuss payment plans and other options.
- Tax Investigation
This menacing form of scam message is often received via text message or even phone call. The message alerts you to the fact that you are under investigation for tax fraud or other serious offence, with HMRC seeking legal action against you and that you could potentially be imprisoned if found guilty. The message will then prompt you to settle the dispute by making a payment in order to end the investigation and this is how the fraudster is able to trick you into paying potentially large sums of money direct into their account. Some fraudsters may be able to make the message seem even more convincing if they have been able to collect other personal information on you such as a business name or address or even a second property address that they will refer to.
HMRC have confirmed that they have received numerous reports of these alarming threats and that they are indeed a scam. They have reported that a majority of these messages have been targeting the elderly and other vulnerable people. Should you receive such text messages you should delete them immediately without clicking on any links or calling any numbers provided. If you receive a call and you cannot verify or be sure of the legitimacy of the phone call, then you should end it without giving out personal information.
- Covid-19 Payment Notifications
In the most recent reports of HMRC scam attacks, fraudsters are using the current pandemic as an opportunity to target small business owners who may have applied for government relief. Messages often include reference to popular schemes including Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan, Microbusiness Bounce Back Loans or even Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme whereby they notify the victim payment is due, however bank account details are needed in order to transfer the funds.
If you have applied for any loans, then only disclose personal information where you are sure you are speaking to a legitimate person from your bank. Remember, banks will never ask for your pin number or your full online banking password.
Different Forms of Scam Communications
Fraudsters will utilise all forms of communications available to them. Whilst it may be easy to presume that some methods of communications will be more convincing than others, it is important not to underestimate how credible fraudsters are able to make a message appear.
- Text Messages
Whilst HMRC do genuinely use text messages as an approved form of communication with taxpayers, they will only use it for the purpose of confirming an action such as receipt of a claim or form submission. Security codes issued by HMRC will also be texted to your mobile, however these will only ever be sent once you have requested it so you should be expecting this message any way.
On the other hand, HMRC will never use text messages as a way to inform you of a tax rebate, of a tax penalty, or to request personal information. Any text containing this information with links should be ignored and deleted.
Unknown numbers and nuisance calls are not uncommon. You may even have faced a few yourself ranging from fake insurance companies asking about an accident you’ve never had to double glazing you’ve never had installed. These may be easy to ignore, but a fake call from someone purporting to be from HMRC can be more difficult to identify.
If you receive any alarming messages from callers claiming to be from HMRC, it’s important to stay calm. Be aware that HMRC will never call regarding an outstanding payment due that you’re not already aware of, either through submission of a personal tax return or a letter that has been sent to you. They will also never demand payment then and there over the phone.
Pre-recorded messages are also never sent to you from HMRC unless you have requested automated authentication whilst signing into your online account. If you receive an automated message asking you to call back or select a number to be put through to someone, you should hang up immediately.
Fraudsters are well versed in documenting emails to look genuine through use of HMRC branding and logos. Nevertheless, similar to the above forms of communications, HMRC will never use email to ask for passwords, personal information or to inform you of a tax rebate so do not be tempted to click on any links that involve you sharing these types of information, including bank account details.
If you do happen to click on any links, you should double check the URL address to see if this looks like a genuine web address. Fake URL addresses may contain convincing URL text such as ‘tax.gov.uk’ which also appears on genuine HMRC websites, however this text will usually appear in the middle of the URL as opposed to the beginning.
Before completing any forms that are on the landing page you should also try to click on other links that appear on the same page such as going back to the home page, the search tool function which often appears at the top of many .gov websites or even being able to change the language settings to Welsh (Cymraeg). Fake websites will not go into such levels of detail as providing all the functionality that the real HMRC website has, so this is another way to make sure you have clicked through onto a genuine link.
Unlike the above forms of communications, HMRC do regularly contact taxpayers via letters. Not only that but they will inform a taxpayer if any money is owed through letters also, making scam letters one of the most convincing methods of fraud attacks. As with emails, fraudsters use tactics such as adopting HMRC’s logos and branding to make the letter look authentic, but there are still a few ways to check the authenticity.
Firstly, HMRC will always send a letter directly addressed to you by your full name. Any letters with generic greetings such as ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ should be treated with caution and are likely to be fake. Secondly, HMRC will never send letters asking for your bank details, so any requests for you to do so should also raise a warning flag. Thirdly, HMRC will again never demand that you pay any outstanding debt immediately, but instead warn you of when the next increase may be if you do not pay by a certain date. They will also give you options as to service departments you should get in contact with if you are struggling to pay. Finally, if you do receive a letter requesting payment which includes bank details which you can transfer funds into, you should check here to see if it is a legitimate HMRC bank account. If it is anything different you should call HMRC to double check before proceeding with any bank transfer.
- Social Media
HMRC will never contact you through social media channels to inform you of payments due, rebates owed to you, or to request personal information including bank details. Any direct messages or other forms of communication via messaging apps should always be ignored. Chain messages received from your known contacts which claim that you can receive a tax rebate through a link, or that you must continue the chain message otherwise fines will be issued should also be ignored and should not be forwarded to more contacts.
What you should do if you receive an HMRC scam
If you suspect that an email is fake or fraudulent, you must not open it, click on any links or download any attachments. It is also vital to report it to the authorities to make sure that no one else can fall victim to it.
- You should forward all suspicious emails to [email protected]
- You send all suspicious texts to HMRC on the number 60599
- You can also report a scam to the Citizens Advice here
If you’ve suffered financial loss because of one of these scams, you should contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or use their online fraud reporting tool.
What to do if you’ve become a victim of an HMRC scam
The first and most important thing to do if you feel like you have been scammed, is to contact your bank to ensure you do not lose any money. They will be able to freeze your account and set you up with new details so the fraudsters cannot get access. They will also have good advice on what to do next. It will also be a good idea to change all your passwords, to ensure they can’t get into any of your other accounts.
You should also report the scam to the authorities by calling the police on 101.
For more information on what to do if you have been scammed follow this useful link where you can get expert advice – https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/scams/what-to-do-if-youve-been-scammed/
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