I am afraid that over the course of the last few years there has been an ever increasing number of fraudsters using emails that purport to be from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
These emails often try to fool you into believing that you are entitled to a tax refund, encouraging you to click a link, leading you to a form where you can claim the refund. The form will usually then request bank account details and other personal information, which will then be in the hands of the fraudsters.
Another common scam is for an email to be sent claiming that you have incurred a penalty and that you need to give personal information in order to have the penalty overturned.How to tell if an email is fraudulent:
If you do have an email from HMRC, treat it with suspicion. Often the spoof emails contain spelling mistakes and poor grammar. There are also a number of other things you can look out for to help you recognise a bogus email.Incorrect ‘from’ address
Look out for a sender’s email address that is similar to, but not the same as HMRC’s. Fraudsters often have email accounts with HMRC or with revenue names in them (such as ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’). These email addresses are used to mislead you.
If you are not 100% sure that the email has come from HMRC, do not open it. If you do open the email but have some doubts, do not click on any links or downloads.Personal information
Emails from HMRC will never:
(a) notify you of a tax rebate,
(b) offer you a repayment,
(c) ask you to disclose personal information such as your full address, postcode, tax reference or details of your bank account,
(d) give a non-HMRC personal email address to send a response to,
(e) ask for financial information such as specific figures or tax computations, unless you have given them prior consent and you have formally accepted the risks,
(f) have attachments, unless you have given prior consent and you have formally accepted the risks,
(g) provide a link to a secure login page or a form asking for information.Urgent action required
Be wary of emails containing phrases like ‘you only have 3 days to reply’ or ‘urgent action required’.Bogus websites
Fraudsters often include links to web pages that look like the homepage of the HMRC website. This is to trick you into disclosing personal/confidential information. Just because the page may look genuine, it does not mean it is. Bogus webpages often contain links to banks/building societies or display fields and boxes requesting your personal information such as passwords, credit card or bank account details.
You should be aware that fraudsters also sometimes include genuine links to HMRC web pages in their emails. This is to try and make their emails appear genuine.Common greeting
It is often the case that fraudsters will send high volumes of phishing emails (a form of fraud in which the attacker tries to learn information masquerading as someone else) in one go. But even though they may have your email address, they seldom have your name. Be cautious of emails sent with a generic greeting such as ‘Dear Customer’. Emails from HMRC will:
(a) usually use the name you provided to them;
(b) always include information on how to report phishing emails to HMRC.Attachments
Be cautious of attachments as these could contain viruses designed to steal your personal information.
I know of many people who have been targeted by the fraudsters and it is easy for the unwary to fall victim to these scams. So please be vigilant.
If you would like to talk to me about this subject or any other issue relating to UK taxation please feel free to contact me on 01842 755032 or by email.