As phishing scams continuing to surge, fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated in their methods. Driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, the last year has seen a huge rise in counterfeit HMRC correspondence, with fakes becoming increasingly hard to detect.
What are the various methods used in HMRC phishing scams?
Scammers are using all the routes available to trick people, so it pays to be aware of the various platforms they are active on. Fake communication is widespread and can appear via:
· Phone calls
· Social media
Much of the fraudulent communication has been focused on COVID-19, offering ‘lockdown support plans’, ‘third grants’ and ‘COVID-19 refunds’. Beyond pandemic scams, fake communication tends to be more common around key deadlines such as when your tax return is due. They usually take the form of ‘you’re owed a tax rebate’ or ‘you’re in trouble with HMRC’.
How will the real HMRC contact you?
HMRC will never ask for your bank account details, personal information or send you notifications by email or text for:
· Tax rebates
· Personal or payment information
HMRC does call people about outstanding tax bills, and sometimes uses automated messages, but will always include your taxpayer reference number. They will never send notifications of a tax rebate or ask you to disclose personal or payment information by email or text message.
How can you protect yourself from HMRC scams?
It’s always wise to be cautious, even over-cautious, about urgent communication offering you or your business financial assistance. If in doubt, you can check the legitimacy of the message on HMRC’s phishing guide
· Never open attachments or click any links in an email or text message. These links may contain malware software or direct you to a misleading website.
· Do not reply to emails or text messages offering refunds or rebates in return for personal or financial details. Any details you supply can be used to hack accounts and steal bank details.
· Be aware that fraudsters may spoof a genuine email address or change the ‘display name’ to make it appear genuine. If you are unsure, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org to check the legitimacy and then delete it.
· If contacted out of the blue via phone, it will often be a sign of a scam. Try to verify the identity of the caller. You can do this by getting them to answer questions only HMRC would know – like your tax reference number. If uncomfortable or you’re unsure it’s a scam, hang up. You can then research HMRC’s trusted call centre numbers on www.gov.uk and call them independently.
How can you report HMRC scams?
You can report suspicious activity to HMRC at email@example.com or by sending a text to 60599.
Additionally, you can contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 to report any suspicious calls or use their online fraud reporting tool.