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, Perrys Chartered Accountants discusses the latest HMRC cyber scams doing the rounds and how to spot bogus communications.

Identifying Phishing Attempts, Tips for Cybersecurity Vigilance

In the last five years, phishing scams including fake emails, calls, and messages suggesting they are from Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) have grown in number.  

In 2021, HMRC received over 670,000 calls from individuals reporting tax scams. In recent months, there has been a significant drop in reports to HMRC, but tax-related scams doubled during the pandemic and HMRC is still advising caution. Any correspondence, especially via text or email, implying it’s from them should be approached with caution.  

The most common tactic used by fraudsters in HMRC phishing scams is contacting potential victims via automated messages. Some of the things to look out for are listed below. 

HMRC email scams 

Email phishing scams aren’t new, but increasingly sophisticated techniques means many are able to replicate email addresses from authorities that on first glance look legitimate.  

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These attacks aim to extract personal information from an individual that would enable fraudsters to steal bank details and other identification.  

One example doing the rounds is an email telling recipients that they are eligible to receive an employment income support scheme credit during the pandemic. If you receive such an email, you should not reply, click on any links in the email, or open any attachments. Also avoid disclosing any personal or payment information. Instead, report it to HMRC by forwarding it to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk  

Fake tax rebates 

Another common HMRC phishing scam is the offer of a tax rebate, either via text or email. These messages will definitely be fake as HMRC will never contact anyone by text or email about tax rebates. Do not reply to any such messages offering a refund. Instead, report it to HMRC then delete it.  

Be wary of website links and malicious web pages 

HMRC will never ask you to click on a link to complete your details online to receive a rebate.  

Web pages can also be dangerous if you end up on a fake site cloning or copying the official pages from HMRC’s website, or claiming to be officially affiliated with them. To avoid being fooled by a convincing fake, visit HMRC by typing the government’s official URL into your browser: https://www.gov.uk/  

HMRC text scams 

HMRC will never ask for personal or financial information when sending texts. If you receive any such texts, don’t reply to it or open any links in the message. Instead, you can send phishing text messages to HMRC using the text number 60599 or by emailing it to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk  

HMRC phone scams 

Phone scams use a variety of methods and often target elderly and vulnerable people. A popular method is using an automated message. 

One example that HMRC is aware of is a message that tells the receiver they are the subject of a lawsuit and to press 1 to speak to a caseworker to make a payment. This is not true and if you receive such a call you should end it immediately.  

Other phishing scams may refer to National Insurance number fraud or tax refunds and will ask for you to supply bank or credit card information. If you are at all unsure or cannot verify the caller, hang up and report it to Action Fraud.

When reporting phone scams, you should include the date of the call, the phone number used to contact you, and what the call was about.  

You can also contact HMRC directly on its phone number 0300 200 3310 to verify the legitimacy of any calls you receive that claim to be from the authority.  

HMRC WhatsApp scams 

HMRC will never use WhatsApp to contact customers about a tax refund. If you receive any such communication, report it immediately by emailing HMRC, then delete it.  

HMRC social media scams 

A more recent scam is the distribution of direct messages via Twitter offering a tax refund. These 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, 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, 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 some UK consumers buying goods from EU businesses might need to pay customs charges when they’re delivered. This has resulted in a surge of HMRC phishing scams via email and text asking for customs duty payments. Scams tell customers they must pay customs duty to receive a valuable parcel which doesn’t exist. If you’re not expecting any parcel or are in any doubt as to the authenticity of the messages, do not reply. Report any suspicious activity to HMRC immediately by emailing phishing@hmrc.gov.uk 

University students taking part-time jobs 

Undergraduates taking part-time jobs are at increased risk of falling victim to scams according to HMRC. This is particularly the case if they are new to interacting with the tax authority and unfamiliar with its processes. 

More than 5,000 phone scams were reported between April and May 2021 by 18 to 24 year olds.  

The advice is to be wary if you’re contacted out of the blue by someone asking for money or personal information. 

HMRC head of cyber security operations Mike Fell 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 more information and guidance about HMRC phishing scams, visit HMRC’s official website