Fake HMRC texts and emails could be dangerous - how to spot them

Thursday, 19th November 2020, 4:06 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th November 2020, 4:06 pm

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has issued a warning to those who submit a Self Assessment tax return to be aware of criminals and fraudsters who could be trying to steal their money.

The department is issuing thousands of SMS messages and emails as part of its annual Self Assessment tax return push, and - as it does so - HMRC is warning customers who are completing their returns to take care to avoid being caught out by scammers.

“The department knows that fraudsters use calls, emails or texts to contact customers,” a statement from HMRC said.

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“In the last 12 months, HMRC has responded to more than 846,000 referrals of suspicious HMRC contact from the public, and reported over 15,500 malicious web pages to internet service providers to be taken down.

“Almost 500,000 of the referrals from the public offered bogus tax rebates.”

What to look out for

HMRC explains that many scams target customers to inform them of fake tax rebates, or tax refunds, that they are due.

The criminals will use language intended to convince customers to hand over personal information, including bank details, in order to claim the fictional money.

HMRC says, “Criminals will use this information to access customers’ bank accounts, trick them into paying fictitious tax bills, or sell on their information to other criminals.”

HMRC is also warning the public of websites that charge for government services, such as call connection sites, which are in actuality free, or charged at local call rates.

‘Criminals inciting panic’

HMRC’s Interim Director General for Customer Services, Karl Khan, said, “We know that criminals take advantage of the Self Assessment deadline to panic customers into sharing their personal or financial details and even pay bogus ‘tax due’.

“If someone calls, emails or texts claiming to be from HMRC, offering financial help or asking for money, it might be a scam. Please, take a moment to think before parting with any private information or money.”

Pauline Smith, Head of Action Fraud, said, “Criminals are experts at impersonating organisations that we know and trust. We work closely with HMRC to raise awareness of current scams and encourage people to report any suspicious calls or messages they receive, even if they haven’t acted on them, to the relevant channels.

“This information is crucial in disrupting criminal activity and is already helping HMRC take down fraudulent websites being used to facilitate fraud.

“It’s important to remember if you’re contacted out of the blue by someone purporting to be from HMRC asking for your personal or financial details, or offering you a tax rebate, grant or refund, this could be a scam.

“Do not respond, hang up the phone, and take care not to click any links in unexpected emails or text messages. You should contact HMRC directly using a phone number you’ve used before to check if the communication you have received is genuine.”

How to spot a scam

A communication claiming to be from HMRC could actually be a scam if it:

is unexpectedoffers a refund, tax rebate or grantasks for personal information like bank detailsis threateningtell you to transfer money

If you’re concerned about falling victim to a possible scam remember:

Stop:

Take a moment to think before parting with your money or informationDon’t give out private information or reply to text messagesDon’t download attachments or click on links in texts or emails you weren’t expecting

Challenge:

It’s okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests - only criminals will try to rush or panic you

Protect:

Forward any suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to [email protected] and any texts to 60599Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam, and report it to Action Fraud