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How to spot a HMRC scam

Mike Wakeford

Fraudsters will disguise themselves as HMRC and other government departments/professional bodies to:
•    Obtain personal details which they will sell or use for identity theft,
•    Coax victims into handing over money,
•    Use victims’ details to steal money from their accounts. 

By posing as HMRC, a sense of panic and worry is created in their victims’ minds as they believe if they don’t cooperate, there will be serious repercussions. 

How can you protect yourself?
Despite these scams being very comprehensive, they can still be easy to spot, if you know what you are looking for. 
•    HMRC will never ask you for personal details over the phone, by email or post – if you receive a communication asking for personal details, do not respond. 
•    If the letter, email or text does not look right – the logo might look different or the wording might not sound familiar, check against a real letter you have from HMRC, or give them a call. However, do not use the number supplied on the supposedly fake letter as it could be a fraudster at the other end of the line, plus there may be phone charges. The easiest way to find a genuine HMRC phone number is to go to their website where their numbers are listed.
•    If you receive a random call regarding a tax rebate, start by asking questions about who is calling and where they are calling from, fraudsters hate being questioned. If the person calling changes their tone and starts becoming aggressive, hang up – it is most likely a scam call.  

What are the different types of scams? 
There are hundreds of different tax scams out there, but they are all very similar. Below you will find a list and description of the most popular scams used. 

Fake Tax Websites
Fraudsters are known to use websites which mime official websites such as HMRC. These websites appear official but however often charge users for an otherwise free service and also steal personal data such as your name, address and bank details. 

The traffic these websites receive is usually generated via links through email (phishing scams) or paying for online advertising to appear as the first result on Google for popular search terms for example ‘tax advice’ or ‘self assessment return’.

Tax rebate emails
This scam is used by criminals to not only steal money from their victim’s account, but also to steal personal information to sell on for much worse crimes such as identity theft. 

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

Scammers will send their victim an email, posing as HMRC, informing them that they are owed money from overpaying tax. 

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.

In the email, they will usually ask for your full name, address, date of birth, bank/credit card details -that can include your passwords, PIN and security hints. 

HMRC will never ask nor require all of these details to process a repayment to you. The passwords to your bank should stay with you and you only. 

Also, never click on any links from suspicious emails, or call a number from a suspicious letter, these could infect your computer with malware which could steal information. 

Phone calls
Some fraudsters use phone scams to coax their victim into providing their bank/credit card details by offering them a tax refund. 

It is important to note that HMRC would never offer a tax rebate via telephone, text or email. They only ever communicate about tax rebates via post.

If the caller does not and will not verify their identify and becomes aggressive when being questioned, do not speak to them, hang up the phone and make sure you don’t give them your personal details. 

If you are unsure whether or not the call was a scam after you’ve hung up, give the organisation a call back (using the number from their official website) to discuss the call.

iTunes phone scam
A popular scam which fraudsters use to target the elderly is the iTunes phone scam.

Action fraud – the national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre have said that since 2016, there have been over 1,500 reports of this particular scam and most victims are over the age of 65 and suffered an average loss of £1,150 each. 

The scammers target their victims by impersonating an HMRC staff member. They inform their victim that they owe a large amount of tax and that it must be paid off through Apple iTunes vouchers only. 

The victims are coaxed into purchasing the vouchers and handing over the redemption codes to the fraudsters over the phone. 

These vouchers are then sold, or used to purchase big ticket items at the victim’s expense. 

HMRC will never ask for payment of outstanding debts using iTunes or gift vouchers. 

Tax scams on social media
Social media is a fantastic tool for connecting with friends and family, however, some scammers are using social media to personally message people about tax refunds.
HMRC identified a recent social media scam where fraudsters were using Twitter to offer a tax refund.

These messages are not authentic and you should not open any link sent in the message. 

HMRC would never offer a tax rebate or request sensitive information via any social media channel. 

If you receive a fraudulent message from a scammer who claims to be from HMRC, take a screenshot of the message before deleting it and forward it onto HMRC via: where they can investigate.