For several years now, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has been aware that scammers have been using them as the subject of their schemes. After all, something as serious as tax gets everyone’s attention. With the tax return season in full swing, the swindlers are going to be trying harder as more people will be expecting to hear from HMRC. So, what are these HMRC scams, and how can you avoid them?
The objective of the fraudsters is to get to your sensitive information, money, or both. If they are successful, it will not only cause you financial pain but there is also a threat of identity theft. So, what should you be looking out for?
How do I spot a scammer?
It is not always easy to spot a bogus HMRC correspondence. Increasingly the fraudsters are getting more sophisticated. We’ve seen scammers use the right HMRC logos, referencing, fonts, colours, etc making it all look so real.
But here’s a list of quick checks you can make:
Use of generic greetings
Generic greetings like “Dear Customer” are not used by HMRC.
HMRC will generally address you by your name. This is the name you provided when signing up for the government gateway account.
Website links are not genuine.
HMRC doesn’t normally provide a link to a log-in page. They will instead ask you to log in to your normal account.
In fact, it is best practice not to click on links sent to you. This is especially true if you are parting with money. Go to the source website and then find the link to pay your bill.
- Spelling or grammar mistakes
You would expect standard letters and emails from HMRC to be checked for grammar and spelling.
- Incorrect email addresses
Sometimes incorrect email addresses are difficult to spot because they look so genuine. For example, Chris@hmmrc.gov.uk . Can you spot the mistake? HMRC has only one M. If you receive an email then check the address first carefully.
- All correspondence from HMRC nowadays includes some information on how to report phishing emails and calls. If this is missing, then take your time looking at the correspondence.
These “phishing” exercises as they are often referred to are getting more frequent and more sophisticated. The scammers are now using a variety of channels including letters, calls, texts, emails and even QR codes.
As a taxpayer, it is important to be aware of the various types of HMRC scams and how to avoid them. Equipping yourself with the right tools is crucial in the fight against this type of crime.
So, what steps can you take to protect yourself?
Our top recommendations to avoid HMRC scams
Are you expecting the correspondence?
If you have never had a tax refund and suddenly you receive an email or text to say you are due a refund, then be suspicious.
HMRC is not going to contact you about a tax refund if you are not completing a Self-Assessment Tax Return. At best, they might send you a tax calculation showing the repayment, but this will be after some time. This information comes via a letter in the form of a P800 tax calculation.
Have you provided the email address to HMRC
If you have always received letters or you’ve called HMRC in the past with your queries, a sudden email should raise suspicion. Especially if you don’t remember giving the email address to HMRC in the first place.
If that email asks for bank details or personal information it is very likely that it is fraud.
You’ll not be asked for your unpaid tax via email or text message so don’t fall for it.
Instead, delete the email and log in to your Personal Tax Account.
You should not be put under pressure to do anything in a hurry via a call, email, or other messages. HMRC will not do that. They will give you time and back things up with a letter. If you ever have doubts just hang up the call. HMRC will not get upset with you.
Our recommendation is to have a personal tax account because then you can log in yourself and check for messages.
It is the most secure way of communication with HMRC these days.
If you have received any phishing correspondence like emails, they can be forwarded to email@example.com. You can forward texts to 60599 but network charges will apply.
HMRC has also issued more guidance on how to report these phishing incidents and these can be found here
We are always here to help too so please get in touch with your normal manager if you have any concerns. Here’s more on how we work.