Every scam begins with a belief

Scams are becoming more prevalent as criminals create even more inventive ways to defraud people of their money.

A particular area of concern relates to HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs) where tax scams are on the rise. The main aim of these scams is to steal money from your bank account, persuade you to send money, or get enough personal information to sell on to other criminals who perform identity theft.

Email scams

Phishing emails supposedly from HMRC can happen at any time, but are most common around key tax deadlines. 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.

Typically you will be asked to provide your personal details, including bank account information, with the promise of a tax rebate. If you do so, money can be stolen from your bank account and your details could be sold on to criminal gangs.

It is worth noting that HMRC will never ask for your bank account details via an email and you should report such an approach to phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk.

Text message scams

Here the fraudsters use ‘spoofing’ to make it appear that you are getting a text message from HMRC instead of displaying the phone number they are using. The message may say that you are owed a tax refund or warning that you owe HMRC money and there is a warrant out for your arrest.

The text will usually contain a link to a website which will steal your personal information or spread malware, leading to identity theft and/ or theft of your money.

It is worth noting that HMRC does actually send some text messages – for example, if you have registered your phone with it as a security measure when logging into your self-assessment account. However, it has stated it won’t ask for personal or financial information by text. It has also stated that it would not use text messaging to advise of a tax refund.

Phone scams

These are phone calls received in which the caller may offer a tax refund or, as reported quite heavily in recent weeks, say you owe HMRC money and a warrant is out for your arrest.

By ‘spoofing’ the number, the fraudster makes the call look like it has been made by HMRC. Indeed they will often suggest you confirm their authenticity by checking the incoming telephone number against that held on the Government’s website.

By duping you into believing they are legitimately from HMRC, you are threatened with a visit to your home address on the same day to seize assets if your debt is not settled immediately. They sometimes even brief you on what you can and can’t do when attending court.

Perhaps not surprisingly some people have been known to be taken in by this and in a state of panic make an initial online bank transfer to the fraudsters. Sadly, once a payment has been released it is difficult to get it reclaimed as it represents an online transfer which the victim had authorised so may not be considered as fraudulent.

For the record, HMRC will never ring you to request payment of an outstanding debt.

Help & advice

The organisation, Action Fraud (www.actionfraud.police.uk) offers the following advice about HMRC scammers:

  • Recognise the signs – genuine organisations like banks and HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, password or bank details.
  • Stay safe– don’t give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in emails you weren’t expecting.
  • Every Report Matters–  report phishing emails  to Action Fraud and forward them onto HMRC at phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk.