HMRC have issued a warning to self-assessment taxpayers to watch out for scams as fraudsters could target them as they prepare for the looming online tax deadline.
HMRC is warning people who are filing, or preparing to file, self-assessment tax returns for 2021-22 to watch out for tax scams.
In the fiscal year ending August 2022, the tax authority says it received 180,000 referrals of suspicious contact. 81,000 of these fraudulent communications were offers of tax rebates, and some even threatened victims with arrest for tax evasion.
With the deadline for online self-assessment of January 31st fast approaching, millions of people are likely to be more receptive to messages or phone calls claiming to be from HMRC.
Here, we can reveal which scams people should be particularly aware of, and how you can avoid becoming a victim to fraudsters.
The most common tax-related scams
According to HMRC, fraudsters target customers when they know they are more likely to contact the tax office, so self-assessment customers should be extra cautious of suspicious emails, text messages, and phone calls.
The following are common methods used by fraudsters to trick you into providing personal information and money.
Fake phone calls and text messages
HMRC responded to 55,386 phone scam reports in the year to August 2022, and has been working with the telecoms industry and Ofcom to remove 48 phone numbers used to commit HMRC-related phone scams.
There have been reports of fraudsters calling customers posing as tax collectors and threatening potential victims with lawsuits, arrest warrants, or demands for unpaid taxes.
Anyone who is targeted by this tactic is likely to be persuaded to make a payment over the phone, which will go to a scammer's bank account.
Fake text messages threatening the recipient or offering a tax refund are also common. Scammers can use number spoofing to make your phone display 'HMRC' as the sender instead of their phone number, making it more difficult to detect.
The links in these messages will usually direct you to a website that will harvest your personal information or distribute malware that can lead to identity theft, money theft, or both. As a result, you should refrain from clicking on any links or providing any personal or financial information.
Scammers also use emails that spoof a legitimate address or change the 'display name' to appear genuine.
Similarly to scam text messages, these emails will typically include a link to a website that will attempt to harvest your personal information or ask you to transfer money.
Check any emails carefully for unusual sender information, spelling errors, and requests for your bank information. Click on any email links only if you are certain they are from a legitimate person or company.
Another common scam to watch out for is fake websites that charge people for services that should be free or low-cost, such as charging to connect people to free HMRC phone helplines.
HMRC has reported 10,565 malicious webpages for removal in the last year. It has attempted to address this issue by disputing bogus websites and acquiring ownership of HMRC-branded internet domains or website names.
Since 2017, the department has recovered over 183 websites that hosted low-value services like call-connection sites.
HMRC also reports that scammers are contacting taxpayers via social media and WhatsApp. One spoof HMRC account, for example, was discovered to be sending direct messages to customers on Twitter. It has since been decommissioned.
HMRC would never contact anyone through WhatsApp or social media to request tax payments. Any requests implying otherwise are scams.
How you can protect yourself against scams
Keep these points in mind the next time you're contacted by someone who says they're from HMRC:
How are you being contacted?
While HMRC may send email and text message notifications, it will never request your bank account information or personal information via text. It also never sends email or text notifications to notify you that you are eligible for a tax rebate or refund.
Be wary if someone contacts you claiming to be from HMRC and requests that you transfer money or provide personal information immediately. Don't respond, don't click on any website links in the email, and don't reveal any personal or financial information.
If you feel pressured or threatened by someone on the phone, there's nothing wrong with challenging the request or rejecting it completely. You can then contact HMRC to confirm whether the request came from the tax office.
Does it seem like a genuine call, text, email or letter?
If you receive an unexpected phone call, text, or email, do not give out personal information or respond, and do not download attachments or click on links before checking the government website to see if the contact appears genuine.
Keep in mind that phone numbers and email addresses can be spoofed, so don't take the sender's information at face value.
Finally, you can report the suspected scam to HMRC to investigate and hopefully stop other people from becoming victims.
You can forward suspicious texts claiming to be from HMRC to 60599 and emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also report tax scam phone calls, emails and texts via the Gov.uk website.
What if you’ve been scammed?
If you believe you have been duped into transferring funds to a scammer's account, contact your bank right away.
Banks that have signed up to the Authorised Push Payment Scam Code must take a number of steps to protect and reimburse customers who are victims of this type of bank transfer fraud.
You should also report it to Action Fraud (in Scotland, contact the police on 101).
Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to email@example.com. Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).