Just days before the self-assessment deadline, scammers are honing in on unwitting taxpayers by posing as HMRC.
To the self-employed, already expecting to hear from HMRC at this time of year, these scams can be very convincing.
HMRC received 915,762 reports of HMRC scams in 2020, with more than half of these offering fake tax rebates.
Generally, an HMRC scam will take the form of rebate offers or warnings that you’ve missed a deadline. This year, particularly cruel scams have exploited the economic difficulties of the pandemic, and confusion around the government’s rapidly changing guidelines.
Scammers are using increasingly sophisticated techniques, meaning it can be easy to be conned if you’re not paying close attention. Here, Which? looks at the most common scam tactics to help you avoid them.
Coronavirus tax scams
Sadly, 2020 gave rise to a new kind of HMRC tax scam.
At the start of the pandemic in March the City of London Police reported a 400% jump in scams, attributed to an increase in coronavirus-related fraud.
COVID-19 scams come in many shapes and sizes, but several of them hinge on impersonating HMRC.
A cruel scam telling victims they are owed ‘goodwill payments’ due to COVID-19 was reported this year.
There have also been reports of a scam telling people they owe £250 for leaving the house more than once.
Both of these scams usually go on to ask victims for their bank details in order to steal their money.
Though we heard from one self-employed worker who gave away her details only for a scammer to fill out her tax return early before her and direct an HMRC refund to his account.
If you receive a text or email from HMRC about a coronavirus rebate or fine, it will not be genuine. Make sure you don’t download any attachments or click any links in the message. And if asked, don’t share any of your personal or bank details.
- Find out more: HMRC coronavirus scam triggers £7,000 refund to fraudster
How to spot fake HMRC emails
Open your junk folder and you’ll likely find countless emails purporting to be from HMRC. But sometimes a fake email can slip through your spam filter. These are the ones you have to watch out for.
There are a few ways to stay alert if you receive an email that claims to be from HMRC. These are:
Look at the sender’s address
The email might say it’s from HMRC or HM Revenue and Customs, but looking at the actual email address it came from could tell another story.
HMRC’s official email addresses will always end with ‘gov.uk’. If anything in the address comes after that, it’s a scam.
Check the subject
HMRC will never email you about tax refunds.
If you are owed a rebate, you won’t find out about it in the body of a text or email, instead, you’ll be told to sign into your online account and read a message.
Don’t click links
Even if you’re 99% sure an email is genuine, it’s safer to close your emails and log into your HMRC account in your web browser rather than click on any links an email includes.
HMRC tends not to send links anyway, so a link in the email is already a red flag.
- Find out more: how to spot HMRC scams
HMRC text scam warning signs
Unfortunately, fake HMRC texts are extremely difficult to spot. This is because scammers can change how their contact information appears on your phone, making it look like the text comes from ‘HMRC’ or similar.
Thankfully there are clear signs that reveal these fake texts if you know where to look for them.
SMS messages from HMRC will never include links. Instead, they’ll ask you to visit its website. It’s very important that you don’t click links in texts that claim to be from HMRC.
In fact, it’s good practice never to click a link in any text message, no matter how sure you are it’s real. You’ll always be able to access the same webpage separately and safely through your browser instead.
Rebates or fines
You won’t receive a genuine text message from HMRC about a tax rebate or payment from HMRC.
Here’s an example of a scam message’s wording from HMRC:
‘As Part of the NHS promise to battle the COV- 19virus, HMRC has issued a payment of £258 as a goodwill payment. Follow link to apply.’
Similarly, HMRC will not text you about a fine for breaking COVID-19 rules.
HMRC doesn’t use WhatsApp to contact customers, so any message you receive from ‘HMRC’ via WhatsApp is a scam.
HMRC phoney phone calls
HMRC saw 340,303 reports of phone scams in 2020, 42% up on 2019. It worked with Ofcom to remove more than 4,500 phone numbers perpetrating fake HMRC-related calls.
These fake calls are usually automated messages, sometimes telling you you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay a fictional fine.
You will never receive a call like this from HMRC. As scary as it may sound, you can safely ignore it and hang up with no consequences.
What to do if you’re targeted by HMRC scammers
Since HMRC scams are so prevalent, it’s worth being cautious whenever you receive communications claiming to come from the tax authority.
HMRC’s own advice is as follows:
Find out more: HMRC’s guide to scams
Use the Which? tax calculator to help with your tax return
If you haven’t submitted your 2019-20 tax return, use the Which? tax calculator to make the process much easier.
The online tool is jargon-free and can help you tot up your expenses, work out your tax bill and submit it to HMRC directly.
- Find out more: submit your tax return today with the Which? tax calculator