How do I spot a tax scam?
- HMRC will never ask you for your payment or personal details by email, text or over the phone, so alarm bells should ring if you are asked for any details in this way.
- Report any bogus attempts to HMRC directly. For more information, read our full guide on how to spot an email phishing scam.
- Check GOV.UK for more information on how to recognise genuine HMRC contact.
Tax 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.
Watch out for HMRC tax scams relating to Brexit
Fraudsters might seek to take advantage of uncertainty and confusion around Brexit to trick us into parting with our money.
Watch out for these Brexit scams which fraudsters may use before, during and after the UK's departure from the EU.
Tax rebate email 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 emails promise a tax rebate, and often ask for 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 this may be, HMRC will never ask for your bank account details via email so don’t respond.
You can report it by emailing it to HMRC via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read our dedicated email scams guide for more advice on how to spot an email scam.
HMRC will never ask for your bank account details, personal information or send you notifications by email for:
- tax rebates
- personal or payment information
If you do receive such an email 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, gain access to your bank account or your personal details.
The HMRC website has listed a selection of email addresses used to distribute the tax rebate scam emails.
Dodgy email attachments
Alternatively, scammers may try to get you to open an attached document containing a virus or malware.
The most common will advise you that your tax notice has been issued but in reality the attachment contain a virus.
Tax scam text messages
We've found that by far on of the most common types of messaging scam is fake notifications from HM Revenue and Customs (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 email@example.com then delete it.
You can read more about HMRC scams in our guide to tax scams.
Copycat tax websites
Copycat websites are designed to look official, but can charge you for an otherwise free service, as well as capture your personal data.
The websites get traffic either via links from phishing emails or by paying for Google advertising targeting key search terms such as ‘tax return’.
Be aware of these, so you don’t pay for a service you could otherwise get for free.
For more information, read our guide to spotting a copycat website.
Suspicious phone calls
Scam calls may come out of the blue offering a tax refund and ask you to provide your bank or credit card information over the phone.
HMRC does not offer tax rebates over the phone, by email or by text. You would only ever be contacted about a tax rebate in a letter.
If you cannot verify the identity of the caller, don’t speak to them and hang up the phone. Never hand out your personal information or bank details over the phone.
For more information on phone scams, read our guide.
iTunes phone scam
Over the past few years, fraudsters have been conning vulnerable and elderly people with a iTunes phone scam.
Figures from Action Fraud show that there have been over 1,500 reports of this scam since 2016.
The vast majority of the victims are aged over 65 and suffered an average financial loss of £1,150 each.
How it works
Scammers cold call you pretending to be an HMRC staff member. They'll tell you that you owe large amounts of tax which can only be paid off through Apple’s iTunes vouchers.
Victims are told to go to a local shop, buy these vouchers, and then read out the redemption code to the conman.
The fraudster then sells on the codes or will purchase high-value products, all at the victim’s expense.
HMRC never asks for payment of outstanding debts and taxes using iTunes gift cards. So, if you suspect that you or a vulnerable or elderly relative has been the victim of this scam or a similar one, you should report it immediately to Action Fraud.
Tax scams on social media
Some scammers are using social media to direct message customers about tax refunds. A recent social media tax scam was identified by HMRC on Twitter offering a tax refund.
These messages aren’t from genuine HMRC social media accounts and are a scam.
HMRC would never offer a tax rebate or request personal or financial information via a social media direct message.
If you get a direct message over social media 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’d like to report the social media scam, take a screenshot of it on your phone or computer and email it to HMRC via firstname.lastname@example.org before deleting it.
You can also report it to Action Fraud using their online reporting tool.
Read our dedicated social media scams guide for more tips on how to spot a social media scam.
The most direct approach involves asking you to verify your identity by providing a copy of your passport, national insurance number, bank statement, drivers licence, credit card or utility bill.
You may see a variation of this approach saying that HMRC needs to carry out additional security checks asking for confirmation of bank details or other confidential information.
Read our guide for more information on what identity theft is and how to avoid it.
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