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HMRC scam warning: the latest con and 5 others to avoid

3-minute read

Sam Bromley

Sam Bromley

17 May 2018

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You should think twice before acting on messages left by the tax service, as HMRC reveals it received 84,549 reports of fraudulent tax refund messages in March 2018 alone.

And now the latest trick in the con artists' playbook has been revealed. It’s one that exploits a big fear for the self-employed – a tax investigation.

New HMRC voicemail scam

According to the charity Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, scammers cold call taxpayers and leave an automated voicemail. The crooks say they’re investigating the taxpayer for non-payment of taxes – and to press ‘1’ to make an immediate payment, or call a number to discuss their situation straight away.

The crooks then ask for the victim’s bank details to pay these outstanding ‘taxes’.

The Sun has also lifted the lid on the scam. They report that the criminals even go as far as to threaten a criminal investigation if the taxpayer doesn’t call back, and that their home is under surveillance.

The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group says people are continuing to fall foul: “Despite warnings by HMRC and stories in newspapers, the scammers seem unperturbed.” The charity last dealt with an apparent case at the end of April.

How to avoid being conned

The scam's effective because HMRC do call self-employed taxpayers and leave automated messages. But keep in mind that HMRC will use a reference number you recognise, and they’ll rarely discuss something like a tax investigation out of the blue.

HMRC has told of other phone scams involving a call promising a tax refund – the criminals will then ask for your bank or card information over the phone.

So, be vigilant, and if you’re asked to provide personal, payment or bank details over the phone, first try to verify the caller’s ID. If you can’t do that, you should end the call immediately. You can always call HMRC using official contact details to find out if it was them.

5 other HMRC scams to be aware of – and how to avoid them

Along with dodgy voicemails, con artists are deploying a number of new techniques to try to trick the self-employed. Here are five of the most common.

Tax refund and rebate scams by email

This is a common ploy, as everyone would love to receive unexpected money back from the taxman.

In 2017-18, HMRC received 771,227 reports of tax refund and rebate scams.

What to look out for:

  • While refunds do happen, remember that HMRC will never send notifications for tax rebates, refunds or personal or payment information by email.
  • HMRC says not to reply with your personal information. The emails will usually contain a link to a website that asks for personal and payment details, so be careful not to click it. Check the sender information for anything suspect.
  • If the email asks you to download a PDF attachment, don’t do it. Forward any dodgy emails to [email protected] and then delete them.

For more information, check out our top tips on how to spot a fake HMRC email.

Text messages from HMRC

Closely related to dodgy emails are text messages saying you’re owed money. When it’s a notification flashing on your phone, it can be easy to get carried away by the idea of an upcoming windfall.

What to look out for:

  • While HMRC do send texts, they’ll never ask for personal or financial information that way.
  • Don’t open any of the links in the message and don’t reply with any personal or financial information.
  • Forward details of the message to HMRC on 60599 or email it to [email protected].

A message from HMRC customer service on social media

There’s a scam doing the rounds where people are offered refunds via direct messages on social media.

What to look out for:

  • HMRC will never ask for personal or financial information over social media.
  • The scam messages aren’t from a genuine HMRC social media account, so it’s a good idea to check credentials, too.
  • If you don't know who the message is from, HMRC recommends you report the message to the [email protected] email address – then delete it.

Third-party companies promising refunds

There are companies that entice taxpayers by saying they can get them a tax rebate or refund – for a fee.

What to look out for:

  • HMRC says that they’re not linked with these companies, so know that any rebate promises might be unfounded.
  • Before taking out their services, you should check all the terms and conditions.
  • Read the small print and carefully go over any disclaimers.

An email to say goods are being held at customs

These emails are known as ‘419 scams’. They usually ask for personal details or a payment in exchange for make-believe items, like lottery winnings, seized goods being held at customs, and inheritance payments.

What to look out for:

  • While it’s easy to dismiss supposed lottery winnings, some taxpayers might fall foul if they’ve recently ordered items online from abroad.
  • The scammers might include the name of a real HMRC employee to make the email seem legitimate.
  • Remember that HMRC won’t ask for personal information over email. You can usually tell these emails apart from genuine ones by the dodgy grammar and spelling.

As above, don’t chance it – HMRC can verify any emails if you send them to [email protected].

Read more about how to check whether HMRC contact is genuine.

If you’ve already fallen victim to a scam and have lost money to fraudsters, you can report the incident to Action Fraud.

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Sam Bromley

Written by

Sam Bromley

Sam has more than 10 years of experience in writing for financial services. He specialises in illuminating complicated topics, from IR35 to ISAs, and identifying emerging trends that audiences want to know about. Sam spent five years at Simply Business, where he was Senior Copywriter.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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