How to avoid HMRC impersonation scams

During the past year, COVID-19 has left many individuals and businesses alike in a difficult position financially. As a result of this HMRC has been giving grants and support to businesses through their SEISS, mortgage holidays, a temporary halt to stamp duty, furlough and business tax relief to name but a few. However, scammers have taken this as an opportunity to target the elderly and vulnerable by using COVID-19 as a scare tactic so where people perhaps would not have fallen for the same scam before, they are panicked and rushed into paying out thousands. As these new grants are novel to the British public, people aren’t fully aware what these new scams should look like. HMRC has published a checklist where you can see the kinds of tactics used. These tend to involve contact that is perhaps unexpected, offering a refund, tax rebate or grant, asking for personal information like bank details, threatening arrest, they will be charming whilst collecting your personal details beforehand, and more often than not telling you to transfer money.

When you are called by a scammer, they try and rush you into snap judgements which leaves you frazzled and unguarded. By doing this the scammer will be able to collate personal information such as addresses and bank details before you realise what has happened. The scammer will often then use these same details later to convince you they are genuine. When it comes to emails, a scammer tends to rename their email “tag line” or name so it looks like a government address, however more often than not, they do not possess the skills to cover up the email address itself, for example it would read xxx@hotmail.com or xxx@gmail.com. Another good clue as to whether an email is a scam is to check the content of the email itself. Often scammers will use poor English and some of the words may be spelt incorrectly or be in the wrong tense, they will also try and encourage you to use a link to a page that will either take your personal information or request a payment. HMRC will never send an email or text about tax rebates or refunds, this also applies to any social media, including “WhatsApp”. If you ever receive a call, text or email from HMRC that you’re unsure of, please talk to your accountant first. Once you have identified the message as a scam, HMRC encourages users to take a print screen of the text/number and text it to 60599 or forward the email to them at phishing@hmrc.gov.uk. You must then delete it to prevent anyone using the link on your device.

If HMRC ever texts you about grants or payments, you should immediately assume it is a scam. Usually, HMRC will send you a letter outlining when they will call you, this will never be out of the blue and will always be about a matter you already know about. HMRC will also never leave a voicemail threatening legal action or leave the reason for their call in a voicemail as this could potentially breach their data regulations.

If you wanted to see examples of emails and communications scammers might use, you can visit HMRC’s list of common scams here.