According to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau more than four million people in the UK are scammed each year and this number continues to rise. In many cases fraud can be very subtle.
In recent years there has been a huge spike in the number of HMRC related scams as fraudsters attempt to intercept taxpayer money on its way to the Revenue.
Financial Secretary to the Treasury Mel Stride MP said that HMRC is “the most spoofed government brand” because virtually everyone becomes involved with the taxman at some point in their lives.
That’s why the Sunny team have looked into some of the most common HMRC scams, the tell-tale signs to look for, and what you should do if you are sent a scam to keep yourself safe.
The most common HMRC scams today
From faking text messages and emails to making costly phone calls, scammers utilise a wide range of technology to trick taxpayers into handing over their money.
Over the past few years, HM Revenue and Customs have seen a significant increase in the number of reported fraud scams they receive.
Hundreds of people across the UK have reported receiving automated phone calls supposedly from HMRC. They are then told that they are under investigation for non-payment of tax and prompted to go through to an advisor who can take an instant payment using their credit card.
Another popular method for fraudsters is sending out emails stating the recipient is eligible for a tax refund. They then prompt the unwitting taxpayer to click the link within the email and input their bank details in order to claim it.
Premium rate fraudsters
The most recent influx of reports from taxpayers revolve around illegal websites claiming to be debt collectors for HMRC. These fake sites then direct the taxpayer to a premium rate telephone number which cleverly connects them to the genuine HMRC helpline; charging extortionate rates to do so.
While the tactics vary from website to website the highest cost per call HMRC found was £3.60 a minute up to £36 for a single phone call.
Customers often don’t realise they’ve been conned until their phone bills arrive. “This is a brazen con,” says Stride. “Charging premium rates whilst simply redirecting calls to the real HMRC numbers that are available at low or no cost.”
Some of these sites even charge for forwarding information on to HMRC. This service is provided completely free of charge via the gov.uk website.
How to recognise a HMRC scam
In response to this growing number of fraud cases, HMRC have created a page on their site with a list of scams they are currently aware of. The total list of HMRC related phishing emails and bogus contact can be seen here.
As cybercriminals become more refined in their techniques it can be difficult to tell the difference between genuine correspondence from HMRC and fake correspondence. These fraudsters put a great deal of time, effort, and resources into making their scams look as authentic as possible.
Some scams will have obvious faults which give them away such as if your name is spelled incorrectly on the email, if there are spelling mistakes throughout the message, or if you have been asked to make a payment immediately.
Genuine HMRC telephone numbers will always start in 0300 and will be free or charged at the national landline rate. If a website claims a government number starts in 084, 087, 090, 091 or 098 then this is a scam and should be reported.
You may also be able to spot a fraudulent email if the sender’s email address does not look quite right. Some of the known email addresses used to distribute tax rebate scams include:
As you can see, these false email addresses could be easily mistaken for the real deal. That is why it is so important that you know what to do if you suspect you have been sent a HMRC scam.
What to do if you have received a scam
If you receive an email or text message that claims to be from HMRC then you should always contact HMRC directly to verify that it is genuine.
It goes without saying but never use the number given in the suspected fraudulent message. You can contact HMRC on their real helpline on 0300 200 3300 or search for all official government telephone numbers on the gov.uk website.
If you discover the email you received is fake do not interact with it in any way. Do not hand over any details and do not click any links in the email as these can install spyware in your computer to steal your personal information and passwords.
You should simply pass on the details of the scam to HMRC’s fraud team on [email protected] right away. You can also report all misleading websites, emails, and phone numbers to Action Fraud.
Speak to Sunny today
If you are worried about falling victim to a HMRC scam when paying your taxes then you should speak to your Sunny accountant. Please call us on 01623 559 362 or email us on [email protected] for professional tax advice and guidance.
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