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Consumer Rights.

Updated: 15 Nov 2021

How to spot HMRC phone, text and email tax scams

Listen to two real, threatening automated messages from fraudsters pretending to be from the HMRC. We explain how this voicemail scam works so you can spot it.
Which?Editorial team
How to spot HMRC phone, text and email tax scams

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Sign up for Which? Scam alerts to get what you need to know about the latest scams, whether it’s a new phishing email or a phoney HMRC call.

With more than 60 years experience fighting scams and protecting consumers this free service from Which? is available for everyone.

How will HMRC contact me?

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will never ask for your bank account details, personal information or send you notifications by email or text for:

  • tax rebates
  • refunds
  • personal or payment information

If you do receive such an email purporting to be from HMRC or an email promising a tax rebate, don’t respond, don’t click on any website links within the email and don’t disclose any personal or payment information. Instead, contact HMRC directly to check whether the email is genuine.

Fraudsters use a wide variety of approaches to get their hands on your money, or gain access to your bank account or personal details.

HMRC has told Which? it does call people about outstanding tax bills, and sometimes uses automated messages, but it will always include your taxpayer reference number.

It says it will never send notifications of a tax rebate or ask you to disclose personal or payment information by email or text message.

You can forward suspicious text messages to 60599. Text messages will be charged at your network rate.

Key Information

What is the HMRC?

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is the UK government department responsible for the collection of taxes. Read our Which? money guides for more information on tax allowances and benefits or use our handy tax calculator to do your own tax return.

Tax rebate or refund scams

One of the most popular approaches is to entice you with a tax rebate which asks you to provide bank account details so HMRC can process the tax repayment.

The email or text call will promise a tax rebate, and often ask for personal information such as your name, address, date of birth, bank and credit card details – including passwords and your mother’s maiden name.

If you provide the information, money can be stolen from your bank account and your details could be sold on to criminal gangs.

Tempting as the sound of a rebate may be, HMRC will never ask for your bank account details via text or email so don’t respond.

Tax email phishing scams

Tax phishing emails purporting to be from HM Revenue & Customs can happen at any time, but are most common around key online and paper tax deadlines.

Scam emails of this sort not only look official, but can often look like they’ve been sent from official government email addresses, making them harder to spot.

Scammers sometimes even sign off phishing emails with the name or signature of a genuine HMRC employee for added authenticity.

According to the National Trading Standards eCrime unit, HMRC is particularly used by fraudsters to scam consumers around tax deadlines.

The main aim of these emails is to steal money from your bank account, persuade you to send money, or get enough personal information to sell on to other criminals who perform identity theft.

If you want to be sure about the legitimacy of the email, read HMRC's phishing email guide which explains how to recognise a phishing attempt from genuine contact.

Tax scam text messages

We've found that by far one of the most common types of messaging scam is fake notifications from HMRC.

Scammers use number spoofing to make your phone display ‘HMRC’ as the sender, instead of a phone number.

The warning in the messages can vary considerably, but some of the reported scams are:

  • That you’re owed a tax refund with a link to put in your details to receive it, or
  • There’s a warrant out for your arrest because you owe the HMRC money.

The links in these messages will usually send you to a website which will harvest your personal information or spread malware which can lead to identity theft and/or theft of your money.

HMRC sometimes sends text messages, but will never ask for personal or financial information. It also says it will never contact customers who are due a tax refund by text message or by email.

If you get a text message claiming to be from HMRC offering a ‘tax refund’ in exchange for personal or financial details, don’t reply and never open any links in the message.

If you do get a HMRC scam message it, forward it to 60599 (network charges apply) or email phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk then delete it.

Spot the signs of the HMRC automated voicemail scam

Scammers pretending to be from the HMRC threaten potential victims with lawsuits, with warrants for their arrest or demands for outstanding tax to be paid.

Which? has obtained two recordings of the automated scam phone calls. Watch the video so you know what it sounds like so you don’t get caught out.

Threatening language

Both the scam calls are threatening and pressure you into acting quickly - this is a common sign of a scam as it’s designed to stop you from thinking through your actions.

Being contacted out of the blue

Often being contacted out of the blue is a sign something could be a scam - but sometimes legitimate companies will need to do this.

So it’s always a good idea to try verify the identity of the caller. You can do this by getting them to answer questions only the company would know - like your tax reference number.

If you feel uncomfortable or you’re sure it’s a scam, hang up.

Asked to share personal details

If you’re asked to share personal details over the phone and you couldn’t verify their identity, hang up.

You should then research the organisation’s number independently.

You can do this by looking up the HMRC’s call centre numbers on www.gov.uk or by using the number on a trusted piece of correspondence – such as a letter you’ve been sent.

Call them back on that number.

Read more about the common signs of a scam.

Key Information

HMRC phone scam: officer Sarah Wilson

The other scam voicemail is an automated female voice purporting to be Officer Sarah Wilson from HM Revenue & Customs.

She urges you or your solicitor to call her back on a provided number. The message threatens that if you or your solicitor doesn’t call them back, ‘then get ready to face the legal consequences’.

This is another tactic to make you act quickly – this time to pressure you into responding out of fear of severe consequences.

How to report HMRC tax scams

If you get a voicemail or message which worries you or you think might be a scam, you should report it so no one else falls victim to it and it can be investigated.

You can forward suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk and texts to 60599.

Or you can contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 to report any suspicious calls or use their online fraud reporting tool.

How to avoid an HMRC tax scam

Tax scams can happen at any time but are most common around key deadlines, such as when your tax return is due.

As well as phone calls and voicemail, scammers also send emails, texts and even letters trying to trick people into handing over their money or personal details.

They usually take the form of ‘you’re owed a tax rebate’ or ‘you’re in trouble with the HMRC’.

We have more information about how to avoid a tax scam in our guide.

What to do if you think you've given scammers your details

If you're worried you've given your payment details or money to a scammer, contact your bank or payment provider as soon as possible and explain what's happened. 

You should be given advice on protecting your account and help with recovering any money you've lost.

You might also find our guide to getting your money back after a scam useful. 


Please note that the information in this article is for information purposes only and does not constitute advice. Please refer to the particular terms & conditions of a provider before committing to any financial products.