Research and reports
HMRC is warning small business owners to watch out for scams as the Self Assessment deadline approaches.
The tax body has seen more than 130,000 reports about tax scams from the 12 months up to September 2023 – with almost half of these relating to fake tax rebates.
HMRC has given examples of genuine messages and contact details to help you work out whether you’re being scammed.
You might receive an HMRC scam email, or a scammer could pretend to be HMRC over the phone or through a text message. HMRC says common tricks from scammers include offering a rebate, requesting you to update tax details, or threatening arrest for tax evasion.
HMRC scams are often more common around the Self Assessment deadline (31 January). Read on to find out how to spot fake communication.
HMRC might get in touch with you over email for lots of different reasons, including:
If it’s a fake HMRC email, you’ve likely got an HMRC phishing email. Phishing refers to criminals sending out scam messages purporting to be from real organisations, in the hope of getting sensitive personal or financial information.
HMRC emails won’t ask for your personal or financial information. Here’s a list of genuine HMRC email contacts.
This is a selection of communication your business might get from HMRC, but be sure to check the full list of HMRC emails you could get.
These can be tricky to spot, as fraudsters often use addresses that look official at first glance, containing words like Revenue, HMRC, and gov.
The key to spotting whether the address is real or not is to hover over the ‘from’ address. The actual link the text leads to will not end in @hmrc.gov.uk (which all official emails from HMRC will).
If you get an HMRC tax refund email, it's almost certainly a scam. Emails from HMRC will never offer you any repayment, tell you about a tax rebate, or ask you to send personal information (such as an address or bank details).
Fraudsters will often try to scare you into complying by telling you that you need to do as they ask quickly, or face the consequences.
Emails that use phrases like ‘you only have three days to respond’ or ‘urgent action required’ are likely to be scams, so don’t fall for the scare tactics and contact HMRC if you’re unsure.
Any emails that contain links to a web page or have an attachment should be treated suspiciously. The links may go to a site that looks like the real HMRC homepage, but will ask you to input personal information so they can steal it.
Similarly, don’t open any attachments that you aren’t expecting. These could contain viruses that will give scammers a backdoor into your computer and allow them to make off with personal information on you, as well as your clients or customers.
Be wary of emails that start ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, ‘Dear customer’ or simply ‘Hello’, rather than your name, as they’re highly likely to be fraudulent. Emails from HMRC will address you by your name.
You might receive a call from HMRC if you’re behind on payments or if you’ve been chosen to take part in research.
Debt management – if you’re behind on payments, HMRC might send you a voice prompt. This can be to your landline or mobile and will give details for paying HMRC, or a helpline for you to get in touch with. You might also receive messages about the importance of using the right payment details when making payments, but these won’t ask for personal or financial information.
Research – HMRC sometimes conducts research among businesses. For example, a previous study aimed to find out how common it is for people to have casual work arrangements, as well as which sectors have these arrangements. A research agency working on behalf of HMRC might call you, but taking part is voluntary and your responses are confidential.
Scammers often exploit a phone call’s sense of urgency and can apply pressure to get what they want. If you feel pressured into giving personal or financial details, don’t be afraid to put the phone down – you can always find an organisation’s official details and get in touch with them separately.
Keep up to date with genuine HMRC phone contacts on the UK government website.
Gov.uk only lists one instance of HMRC contact by letter.
Claiming repayment for Self Assessment – if you’ve claimed for a repayment, HMRC may contact you by letter to ask for more information. You need to respond to the letter as soon as you can to get your repayment quickly. HMRC says you can call 0300 200 3310 or use the income tax enquiries service to check that the letter is genuine.
Read more about genuine HMRC contact by letter.
As with other types of communication, HMRC won’t ask you for personal or financial information in a text. Business owners should be sure to look out for texts about:
If you have debts or outstanding returns due, HMRC may text you to request payment, request overdue returns, or update your personal or business address. The texts will either direct you to gov.uk or ask you to call HMRC.
HMRC might also text you about tax credits, surveys, and other claims – see the full list of text contacts here.
HMRC says that sometimes you’ll get more than one type of message from them, for example, a letter followed up by an email. This is to give customers extra security. Here’s what to watch out for – as always, you won’t be asked for personal or financial information.
Multi-factor authentication – when you try logging into your online tax account, you’ll get an access code by text or voice message as an extra security step. This is to stop someone logging in, even if they know your details. If you activate multi-factor authentication, you’ll need your Government Gateway user ID and password, and a mobile or landline device to log in.
National minimum wage errors – if you employ people, HMRC might get in touch to give you information about common errors surrounding the national minimum wage and national living wage. Look out for emails with information, as well as letters. You can check it’s genuine by calling 03000 557755.
VAT register inactivity – you might get a phone call or email if HMRC doesn’t think you need to be VAT registered anymore, based on VAT account inactivity. You’ll be asked to confirm whether you still need to be registered and to give some basic information on where you’re trading.
See more reasons why HMRC might contact you using more than one communication method.
You can report suspicious messages to HMRC online, by email and by text. HMRC might share your contact details with other organisations to help stop the scams. As always, remember that HMRC won’t ask you for personal or financial information or send tax rebate notifications over email or text.
Email – use this HMRC email address to report a suspicious email – [email protected]
Online – if you’ve had a suspicious phone call from someone claiming to be from HMRC, you can contact HMRC online. You’ll have to enter your email address into the form.
Be sure to mention what you’re reporting in the subject line, for example ‘Suspicious tax rebate offer’.
Text – if you’ve got a text you think is a scam, forward it to 60599.
If you’ve answered suspicious communication with your details, get in touch with your bank (and other organisations, depending on the information you’ve given) straight away.
You can also use these resources to help report scams and get tips on avoiding them:
How have you handled any scam messages in the past? Let us know in the comments below.
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.
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