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23 Nov 2021

HMRC issues tax scam warning to self-assessment taxpayers - here's what to watch out for

The tax authority has received 800,000 scam reports in the past year

HMRC has released a fraud warning urging all self-assessment taxpayers to watch out for fake tax communications ahead of the tax return deadline on 31 January 2022.

The tax authority issued more than 4m text messages and emails last week, urging self-assessors who are yet to file their 2020-21 tax return to get organised - something fraudsters are likely to take advantage of.

HMRC said it received 800,000 reports of tax-related scams in the past year alone - with many more likely to have gone unreported.

As HMRC is likely to be contacting people more frequently between now and the end of January, Which? reveals how to avoid the fraudsters.

HMRC scams to watch out for

Over the past 12 months, HMRC says it's responded to 797,010 referrals of suspicious contact from members of the public. Of these, almost 360,000 were offers of fake tax rebates.

Scammers will commonly text or email people to say they're owed a tax rebate from HMRC, often with a link that asks the person to fill out their personal details in order to claim it. This is usually a way to harvest people's personal details to use in other scams.

Phone scams are on the rise, too. The past year has seen a 21% rise on the previous 12 months, with HMRC receiving more than 327,000 reports of suspicious phone calls.

We've heard many reports of automated phone calls telling people they owe tax and that HMRC has issued a warrant for their arrest - unless they pay the tax they owe. Of course, anyone who does make a payment will find their money goes straight into the scammer's pocket.

Malicious web pages are another issue. Over the same period of time, HMRC reported 8,561 malicious web pages to be taken down - some of which will have been copycat HMRC websites. Again, these are set up to gain your personal information and/or encourage you to make a payment to the scammers.

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How to protect yourself from tax scams

HMRC has a dedicated cyber crime team working to shut down scams - but new ones are popping up all the time, so it's important to keep vigilant.

Before you give out your personal details or make a payment, consider these points:

  • Were you expecting to be contacted? If you know you're due to submit a tax return, you'll probably expect a reminder from HMRC at some point during this time of year. But if the contact you've had is completely unexpected, it's worth digging into whether it's really HMRC that's contacting you.
  • Are you being rushed? If a phone call or other communication says you must make an urgent money transfer, or provide personal information right now, you should be on your guard.
  • Have you been threatened with an arrest? HMRC will never call you and threaten arrest; while the most serious cases of tax fraud and evasion can result in prison terms, it won't just be the result of a phone call out of the blue.
  • Does it seem too good to be true? Receiving news of a tax rebate you weren't expecting can be exciting, but before you go any further with the process of claiming it, ask yourself if it's likely to be real.
  • Have you double-checked the website or email address? One of the most effective ways of checking whether you're being scammed is scrutinising the website you've been sent to, or the email address you've been contacted by. Some of the most sophisticated scams have official-looking details, but the vast majority don't and just work on the assumption that no one will check.

If you're unsure about whether someone contacting you is genuinely from HMRC, it may be worth holding off taking any action until you've checked your personal tax account online to see if you've received any communications there. If that's not clear, you can call HMRC directly.

If you've received any communication that you think might be a scam, it's best to report it to HMRC as quickly as possible so it can be investigated. Suspicious phone calls can be reported using its online form; phishing emails can be forwarded to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk; scam texts can be sent on to 60599.

What to do if you've been scammed

Fraud is becoming more common, and more sophisticated, than ever, and even the most vigilant people can still fall victim to scams.

If a fraudster has convinced you to transfer money to their account, or tricked you into giving up your bank details so they can make the transfers themselves, this is bank transfer fraud - also known as authorised push payment (APP) fraud.

If your bank is signed up to the voluntary Authorised Push Payment Scam Code, it has to take a number of steps to protect customers and reimburse those who aren't to blame for the financial loss.

To improve on the current process, the Treasury has recently committed to make legislative changes that will make it mandatory for banks to reimburse scam victims.

You should also alert the authorities by contacting Action Fraud, or if you're in Scotland call the police on 101.

You can file your return with the Which? tax calculator

If you're yet to file your tax return for 2020-21, you could consider using the Which? tax calculator.

It's an easy-to-use, jargon-free online tool that can tot up how much tax you owe, and even suggests allowances and expenses you might have forgotten.

When you're ready to file, our calculator can also send your completed return directly to HMRC.