It’s high season for tax scams, with fraudsters looking to cash in on the last minute dash to complete your tax return.
Many scams rely on a sense of urgency to rush you into making a wrong decision, and anyone feeling under pressure to meet the tax return deadline (31 January) could be vulnerable.
We look at some of the most common ploys used to by criminals to get their hands on your money and personal data.
Find out more: Work out your tax bill and submit your return with the Which? tax calculator
The ruse: You get a call out of the blue, with an automated message, saying HMRC is taking you to court for an unpaid tax bill. The message either gives you a number to call, or says to press one to speak to an adviser.
How to tell it’s a trick: The phone number won’t be from HMRC. If someone rings you claiming to be from the government’s tax department, check the number is valid. The self-assessment number is 0300 200 3310.
Find out more: How to spot a scam with our consumer rights guide
The ruse: You get an email, or text message, explaining HMRC owes you a rebate. There’s a number or a link to follow to make your claim.
How to tell it’s a trick: HMRC will only ever contact you about a rebate by post, never by email or text. If you get one of these messages, do not click any links. Never, ever, open an attachment from a dodgy source – it could compromise your computer and let hackers get sensitive information like bank details.
These fraudsters can “spoof” an email address to make it look like an official source, so they can be very convincing. The fake websites referenced in the email are often very similar to the real deal too.
You can many spot “spoofed” messages by clicking reply, though you should never actually send anything back. If the address you are replying to doesn’t match the address the message is from, it’s likely a fake.
HMRC says some of the most common aliases used by con artists include:
In some cases, fraudsters have been willing to accept payment in the form of gift vouchers. It should go without saying HMRC will never take Amazon vouchers as payment.
Fake tax services
The ruse: Companies advertise on Google services such as claiming tax rebates, but they take a huge cut of any money you are owed, perhaps 40%. Even if you realise what’s happened and try and cancel they’ll make it hard to get out of the contract.
These aren’t ‘scams’ in the same way as phishing attempts, but these companies operate sharp practice, to say the least.
How to spot them: Addresses use lots of official sounding phrases, like ‘rebate’, ‘tax’, and might use HMRC logos. Their websites will typically end with .co.uk or .com. Official HMRC services will include gov.uk in the email address.
If you find an advert that looks like it’s mascerading as an official government service, you you can inform Google directly.
How to report scams and phishing attempts
If you are contacted by someone posing as the tax man, report the message to HMRC via firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also report it to Action Fraud, a department of the City of London Police.