As the 2021 self assessment deadline approaches, there are increasing reports of fake emails, texts and phone calls purporting to be from HMRC.
HMRC sends thousands of texts and emails every year ahead of the annual tax return deadline on 31 January 2021. However, fraudsters also create convincing emails, text, web pages and make phone calls intended to trick UK tax-payers into handing over personal information, including bank details, in order to claim a spurious refund.
HMRC is warning tax-payers to be highly suspicious of any communication claiming to be from HMRC that is offering a tax rebate. In the past 12 months, HMRC has responded to more than 846,000 referrals of suspicious HMRC contact from the public and reported over 15,500 malicious web pages to internet service providers to be taken down. Almost 500,000 of the referrals from the public offered bogus tax rebates.
"We know that criminals take advantage of the self assessment deadline to panic customers into sharing their personal or financial details and even paying bogus 'tax due'," said Karl Khan, HMRC's interim director general for customer services.
Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, said: "Criminals are experts at impersonating organisations that we know and trust. We work closely with HMRC to raise awareness of current scams and encourage people to report any suspicious calls or messages they receive, even if they haven't acted on them, to the relevant channels. This information is crucial in disrupting criminal activity and is already helping HMRC take down websites being used to facilitate fraud.
"It's important to remember if you're contacted out of the blue by someone purporting to be from HMRC asking for your personal or financial details, or offering you a tax rebate, grant or refund, this could be a scam. Do not respond, hang up the phone, and take care not to click on any links in unexpected emails or text messages. You should contact HMRC directly using a phone number you've used before to check if the communication you have received is genuine."
Anyone who has been the victim of fraud should contact their bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.
HMRC is also warning the public to be aware of websites that charge for government services - such as call connection sites - that are in fact free or charged at local call rates. Other companies charge people for help getting tax refunds. The best way to safely claim a tax refund for free is to log into your Personal Tax Account.
HMRC regularly publishes examples of new scams on the government website to help customers recognise phishing emails and other bogus messages. It says tax-payers should be suspicious if an email, text or call:
- Is unexpected;
- Offers a refund, tax rebate or grant;
- Asks for personal information like bank details;
- Is threatening;
- Tells you to transfer money.
Written by Rachel Miller.