HMRC says that it receives thousands of reports of fraudulent tax refund messages every year.
This is part of a worrying trend that sees scammers pretending to be HMRC and using voicemail, text messages and emails to convince victims to hand over personal banking details.
As a result, you should think twice before acting on messages left by the tax service and must consider the possibility that any message claiming to be from the HMRC could be fraudulent.
To keep your details secure, follow our tips and tricks below. We will discuss the methods scammers use and how to look out for key warning signs.
Voicemail scams: HMRC legal action
Always be wary if a caller claims to be HMRC.
According to Which?, scammers will pose as HMRC and cold-call taxpayers – threatening them with warrants for their arrest or legal action. An automated voice will warn you that a legal case is filed in your name or that you are in trouble because you have not paid your taxes. They will then threaten you with prosecution if you do not call back or will ask you to press ‘1’ to make an immediate payment.
Fraudulent phone messages will pressure you to act quickly and to dial their number. They will then ask for you bank details to pay for these outstanding ‘taxes’.
What to do?
- If you answer their call, ask for the caller to verify their identity.
- Don’t give out any personal information.
- Don’t dial any numbers that they ask you to.
- Hang up and independently look for HMRC’s number on the uk website or on a trusted piece of correspondence – such as a letter or bank statement you’ve been sent.
- Ring the trusted HMRC number to check whether your phone call was fraudulent or genuine.
- Report the scam to HMRC or contact Action Fraud on 03001232040.
HMRC will usually use your tax code in a call
HMRC does call people about outstanding tax bills and sometimes use automated messages, however they will include your taxpayer reference number in the message. They also rarely discuss something like a tax investigation out of the blue. If you are uncertain if the caller is genuine, hang up and call HMRC directly to check.
For tax credits, HMRC do not include your details in any voicemail messages.
Email scams: Tax refund and rebates
Fake emails are a common ploy, and in 2017-18 alone, HMRC received over 771,000 reports of tax refund and rebate scams.
Fake emails will tell you about a tax rebate or penalty owed and will ask you to click a link or to provide your personal or payment information.
- Whilst refunds do happen, HMRC will never send notifications for tax rebates, refunds or personal & payment information by email.
- The email address of the scammer will often look suspect and will not have an official domain.
- If the email asks you to download a PDF attachment or to click a link, do not do it.
- Do not reply to the email.
Text scams: HMRC owes you money
Beware of text messages that say you are due a tax rebate. Whilst it’s easy to get excited by the idea of a possible hand-out, it’s best to not get carried away.
- HMRC do send texts, but they will never ask for personal or financial information via text.
- Do not open any of the links in the message and don’t reply.
Social Media Scams: HMRC Customer service
Third-party companies: Refund promises
Third party companies entice taxpayers by claiming that they can get them a tax rebate or refund for a fee.
- HMRC states that they have no link with these companies and that any rebate promises may be unfounded.
- Check all the terms and conditions of these companies before using their services.
- Personally, we recommend you do not take up these companies’ services.
Email: Your goods are being held at customs
These emails are known as ‘419 scams’ and trick you with the “pay a little, get a lot” promise. They usually ask for personal details or payment in exchange for fake winnings such as lottery winnings, inheritance payments and seized goods that are being held at customs.
Some taxpayers may fall foul of this scam because:
- They may have recently ordered items online from abroad
- Scammers sometimes use the name of a real HMRC employee to make the email look legitimate.
Remember that HMRC never asks for personal information over email, so report the email and block the sender.
Please note that this is not exhaustive list of all HMRC scams. Scammers are surprisingly creative and scam tactics are always evolving. Always approach any HMRC message with caution and contact HMRC directly to confirm that any message you have received is genuine. Applying common sense and looking out for key scam traits will go a long way in helping you to avoid failing into a scammer’s trap!