UK taxpayers have reported more than 2.6 million communications from fraudsters pretending to be from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in the past three financial years, according to official figures published last month. The data was revealed in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by think tank Parliament Street to HMRC. It showed that over the time period, taxpayers submitted 2,602,528 reports of phishing via email, phone and other methods, to the tax office. Last month, steps taken by HMRC to prevent fraudsters from copying the tax authority’s telephone number were revealed to have led to a 25 per cent drop in overall scam reports, and no new impersonations taking place via the channel.
For some taxpayers, the additional payment deadline for self assessment tax returns is fast-approaching, with this taking place on Wednesday July 31.
Gov.uk explains that this self assessment deadline applies to a person makes advance payments towards their bill, known as payments on account.
Tony Mills, Director of Online Tax Rebates, has shared some insight into how a person can reduce the risk of falling victim to tax refund scams.
He said: “Fraudsters are also now using variations on the same scams using SMS messaging, phone calls and WhatsApp.
“Each year these communications look more and more authentic.”
So, how can a person help to lower the likelihood of being subject to a scam?
“The best way to protect yourself from falling victim is to question every communication you get from a government organisation asking for your details,” Mr Mills said.
What’s more, questioning an electronic message which is said to be from HMRC could be important – as there could be a sign that the person who has got in contact is actually a fraudster.
The tax refund expert explained: “If you receive an electronic message (via email, social media or text) from HMRC you should be highly sceptical.
“Although there are many reasons you might be owed tax, such as for uniform allowance, marriage allowance or mileage allowance you will nearly always have to contact them to get it.
“On the rare occasion HMRC may contact you directly, they will send you a letter in the post.”
Another top tip is to do some research into any tax refund companies who may get in touch.
“Tax refund companies may also contact you by email about being owed a refund and these are usually legitimate, but you should do a google search on the website before entering a claim,” he said.
Other top tips include:
- Never ever provide bank details in the face of an unsolicited communication about tax
- Many scam emails are written overseas so it’s common for them to use clunky terms or type GDP instead of using a £ sign
- Always look at the full email address of the sender; a scam address is likely to be long, use numbers and symbols and not be a “.co.uk” address
- Never open a download or attachment – HMRC will never ask you to do this
- Fraudsters can also put the pressure on to make you act quickly and make split-second decisions, like threaten you with arrest warrants and legal action if you “supposedly” owe HMRC money. Never be pressurised to hand over sensitive information
- A spam filter can reduce the number of phishing emails reaching your inbox. These filters use algorithms to identify fraudulent emails and reject email with untrustworthy addresses
Old fashioned scams
While fraudsters have been spotted operating online, Mr Mills explained that that’s not to say that old-fashioned tactics haven’t been catching taxpayers out.
He warned: “Beware of people turning up at your place of work or home and asking you to fill out a paper form to check if you are due a refund.
“This is a popular scam where someone promises to collect your refund on your behalf but then disappears when it’s paid out.
“Only ever make a claim through a verifiable online tax refund service you’ve personally chosen to guarantee you’ll get your pay out.”