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27 Jan 2018

'HMRC' scam texts blocked after fraud crackdown

SMS messages from 'HMRC' could be from fraudsters

Tough action to prevent fraudulent 'HMRC' texts ever reaching victims' phones has seen a 90% reduction in reports of the scam, the revenue body says.

HMRC has revealed it's been working with 'partners' - believed to include the telecoms sector - since April 2017 to fight back against SMS fraudsters promising tax rebates.

Find out how HMRC is tackling this problem and what you need to know to prevent being scammed.

Fake 'HMRC' texts intercepted

The latest action tackles the scourge of texts which display 'HMRC' as the sender (instead of a phone number), even though they come from fraudsters.

The texts typically promise a tax rebate to trick victims into spreading malware or handing over their personal and banking details.

The government has now acted to protect the sender name 'HMRC' and other commonly abused variants, so that illegitimate texts are intercepted and not delivered - and it's keen to stress that it willneverinform you of tax refunds by text or email.

The announcement comes after a Which? Money investigation highlighted a possible solution to the epidemic of scam banking texts and questioned whether banks would ever adopt such measures.

How texts can be 'spoofed'

Organisations often text for legitimate reasons - for example, your dentist might send you an appointment reminder, while your bank may want to to let you know about new products, or to check whether you've carried out a particular transaction.

To send these texts from a company name rather than a number (e.g., 'Barclays'), organisations use text 'gateways', which also allow them to sendthousands or even millions of messages at a time using a computer, for less than a penny a text.

Most texts sent this way are legitimate, and the providers of those services do attempt to check use is lawful. Unfortunately, fraudsters are making good use of this technology, too.

Because smartphones automatically group messages which have the same sender name, it's possible for a fraudulent text to land in a previously legitimate message thread, making it look authentic.

How to avoid HMRC scams

The tax office is commonly impersonated by fraudsters via emails and websites, texts, phone calls and social media. HMRC publishes guidance on the latest scams and what to do if you encounter one.

While HMRC has now managed to block large numbers of spoofed texts and remove 16,000 malicious websites, you should never assume contact claiming to come from it is genuine.

If in doubt, seek verification from HMRC by emailing phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.ukbefore acting on any instructions.

If you've lost money or personal data to an HMRC scam, contact your bank immediately and report the matter to Action Fraud.