In recent years, HMRC has seen a sharp rise in cases where it’s brand and documentation has been exploited by scammers and phishing schemes. These scams use HMRC styled emails or call techniques, which attempt to obtain banking information by being disguised as official looking HMRC documentation. As soon as you hand over your banking information the scammers will attempt to make payment from your account on the basis you agreed to pay and it’s often too late before you’ll realise you’ve been scammed. Once the transactions have been made it can be a long and drawn out process trying to recover your money and can sometimes involve your bank having to set you up with a new account.
So, how do you protect yourself and your business against this type of threat? Here are our thoughts on what to watch out for and how to spot how HMRC will and won’t make contact with you to help you avoid questioning everything you legitimately received from HMRC.
HMRC Phishing Emails
Whilst emails are the most prominent scamming technique, the truth is HMRC will NEVER use email as a communication channel when discussing tax issues such as tax rebates or penalties, and they certainly won’t ask you for any personal information or payment information. We’ve also noticed fraudulent emails usually have spelling mistakes and lots of grammatical errors, so if you receive an HMRC email and you immediately notice some grammar issues, it’s probably not a legitimate email.
Another thing to keep an eye out for is the email address. Scammers will create fraudulent email addresses that look legitimate and it can be difficult to tell they aren’t real as they use the ‘@hmrc.gov.uk’ tag. However, the fake emails will usually have ‘refund’ or ‘rebate’ included in the address, a legitimate HMRC email won’t.
If you do happen to click a link on the fraudulent email it will often take you to an online form, which will ask you for personal information, such as name, address, date of birth, account number, sort code, card number, card expiry date and card security code. The form may also generate a fake tax refund number. As soon as you see this, exit your browser tab immediately. Sometimes the scam emails will contain a file to download such as a PDF, it’s important you don’t download this as it’s most likely a malicious file.
If you receive a fraudulent email, make sure you forward the email address to email@example.com.
HMRC Fraudulent Phone Call
It’s not only email that fraudsters use to target people with an HMRC scam, telephone calls are also used on a wide scale to take advantage of unsuspecting people. These calls typically involve an operator from an offshore call centre claiming to be HMRC. They’ll almost certainly ask for personal details quickly and will often come across as threatening, suggesting you owe tax. you don’t agree to pay, then they’ll claim to file a lawsuit against you. The serious and threatening tone of the call can cause people to think it’s immediately HMRC, when in fact HMRC would never threaten you over the phone. Alternatively, the fraudster may suggest you have a tax refund and they’ll transfer it to you if you provide your bank details – again something HMRC will never do.
If you happen to receive one of these calls, from someone claiming to be from HMRC encouraging you to provide bank account or personal details for unpaid tax or a refund, you should first attempt to verify the caller’s ID, make a note of it then report it to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are unable to get the caller ID, just hang up immediately and if they call back continuously, block the number.
For more information on how to deal with a HMRC scam, the HMRC website provides some further insight. Alternatively, if you’d like to know more about how to protect yourself from HMRC scams or would like some more general tax advice, get in touch.