HMRC phishing and phone scams

We continue to receive reports of phishing and phone scams in which criminals pretend to be HMRC so we are reminding taxpayers and their agents to remain vigilant.

In one recent example, a member reported that an elderly client had received disturbing phone calls from someone supposedly within the “serious fraud department” at HMRC:

  • The client received two phone calls, and on both occasions the caller said that they had sent them a letter and knew both their old and current addresses.
  • On being informed of the worrying calls by their client, the member called the number back, and noticed that the dialling tone was unusual and that the person who picked up the call had an American accent.
  • The member asked where they were based to which they answered “100 Parliament Street”, but further probing by the member led to the fraudster hanging up in mid-conversation.

This is just one example. Scams can take many forms, including:

  • Automated phone call scams which claim HMRC is filing a lawsuit against you and ask you to press one to speak to a caseworker to make payment.
  • Text messages claiming to be from the tax office concerning a debt or rebate and which ask you to click on a link or call a number urgently.
  • A telephone caller saying that you owe an outstanding tax debt that must be repaid urgently or you will be arrested and sent to court.  Callers may ask for payment by i-Tunes vouchers.
  • An email, text or social media message asking you to click on a link regarding your tax return or to receive a tax rebate, etc.

How to spot phishing and phone scams

Whilst many scams can be easy to spot, others are quite sophisticated and use email addresses, websites and logos that look very similar to official HMRC ones.

A key feature of phishing scams is that they will ask you to provide personal or financial details (such as credit card or bank details) in order, for example, to receive a tax refund. 

It’s important to remember that HMRC will never use texts, emails or social media to:

  • Inform you of a tax rebate or penalty, or
  • Ask for personal or payment information.

HMRC will also never call individuals out of the blue to demand money, or inform them of penalties or refunds.  Instead taxpayers will usually be informed by letter or in their P800 tax calculation in the first instance.

An ATT technical article with more pointers on how to differentiate between fraudulent and genuine HMRC communications can be found here.

HMRC publish examples of known phishing emails and bogus calls, text messages and social media direct messages and how to spot them, as well as up to date lists of genuine topical HMRC calls, letters and digital communications which can be referred to if you are in doubt.

What can members do?

Given the continuing prevalence of HMRC phishing and phone scams, members may wish to speak to their clients (especially those who are elderly and vulnerable) in order to raise their awareness.  As well as advising on how to spot scams, members may also want to pass on the following practical advice as to what their clients should do if they suspect phishing:

  • If you are at all in doubt as to whether a message is genuine:
    • Don’t open it;
    • If you do open it, don’t click on any links, open any attachments or provide any information.
  • If you receive a suspicious phone call it is advisable to hang up and call HMRC back as you would normally, rather than on any numbers provided by the caller. It is wise to use another phone to do this just in case the scammer has not disconnected the call.
  • Suspicious emails and texts should be deleted, but HMRC also encourage taxpayers to report them by email: phishing [at] hmrc.gsi.gov.uk. More information can be found here.

 

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