Despite continued action and warnings, HMRC ‘phishing’ scams continue to rise with criminals using increasingly sophisticated methods to target UK taxpayers. With reports of criminal activity using landlines, emails, text messages and social media to distribute bogus HMRC information, you might be forgiven for not knowing which forms of HMRC contact you can trust. Tax preparation specialist David Redfern, managing director of DSR Tax Claims Ltd, has issued his advice to help taxpayers distinguish between genuine HMRC contact and bogus contact.
Bogus refund texts and emails are the most common ‘phishing’ method used, often containing links to fake HMRC websites or malicious software designed to damage your computer or smartphone. Redfern stated “I’m sure most people can recognise how appealing it is when you receive a text or email claiming that you are owed money, often sums over £1000, and it is tempting to click on the link to claim the refund. However, these emails and texts are never genuine. HMRC does not communicate with taxpayers in that method – they usually communicate via letter and any emails from HMRC deliberately don’t contain any links for the very reason that they don’t want taxpayers to get caught out by ‘phishing’ scams. Such links are usually intended to harvest your financial information, such as bank account details or card details. HMRC will never ask you for your card details in order to issue you with a refund. Similarly, never open attachments to emails. The best way to deal with this texts or emails is to report them to HMRC and then delete them”. HMRC recommend that all ‘phishing’ texts and scams are emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, even if it is seems like a familiar scam that you have seen before.
As criminals move with the times, they are increasingly using our love of social media to target people with scam messaging. HMRC has reported that recent scams have involved direct messages sent to social media users, again offering a tax refund as bait. Redfern stated “While HMRC has a number of Twitter accounts, which they use to provide a customer support option and distribute information regarding UK tax, they don’t use these accounts to contact individual taxpayers nor to gather any form of personal information. HMRC will never use a social media account to inform you about your personal or business taxes – whether it is to inform you of a tax refund or request your personal or financial information. These messages should be treated as other HMRC phishing scams to be reported and then deleted”.
In a worrying and growing development criminals are targeting elderly and vulnerable people by phone, usually landline, to inform them that HMRC is taking legal action against them, fraudulently demanding money in order to halt the supposed legal threat. Redfern noted “It is easy to imagine how concerning it must be to answer a call, only to be told completely out of the blue that you are being taken to court and the scam callers know that most people will feel panic and fear and prey upon that sense of horror. If you are faced with one of these calls, my advice would be to take a deep breath to allow your common-sense time to kick in. The facts are that HMRC does not inform taxpayers of impending legal action in this method. If you are unfortunate enough to have caught the attention of HMRC due to your taxes, it will inform you by letter that they are investigating you and you will be made aware of how your case is going long before it reaches a court or tribunal. While some may feel that HMRC’s insistence on written communication is outdated and unnecessarily unwieldy, it is a strong method of combating fraud”. Taxpayers who find themselves on the receiving end of such a phone call are advised to hang up. If you are able to capture any of the call details, such the number used or the content of the call, HMRC strongly recommends that you report the call to them for further investigation.
Redfern’s final advice when targeted by one of these scams is to “Stop and think. Ask yourself if this is a genuine method by which a government agency would communicate with you. Never be afraid to end a call – no government department or financial institution is going to penalise you for ending a call and contacting them by a genuine, officially-publicised method. On the contrary, they are as keen as you to stamp out these scams so will welcome you taking steps to protect yourself. Never divulge your personal or financial information to someone who contacts you out of the blue to request it – again, genuine organisations won’t have a problem with you taking reasonable steps to ensure that you aren’t being duped”.