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How to spot and avoid HMRC tax scams

How to spot and avoid HMRC tax scams

Getting a message from HMRC can be a conflicting experience. Is it a tax rebate, do you own more money, or is it just an end of year summary? But have you considered it might not be any of these. In fact, it might not be HMRC at all.

What is an HMRC tax scam?

There are two main ways you might be targeted by an HMRC scam.

The first is an HMRC tax rebate scam. This is when you get a message telling you you’re entitled to some money back.

You will normally be asked to click a link in an email and enter your bank details to claim the rebate. But the site you’re directed to is fake and is used to harvest your information.

The second kind is scarier, and plays on your fears to force you to make a quick decision.

You will be contacted by someone, usually on the telephone, claiming to be from HMRC saying you need to pay a penalty fee, or are being taken to court for an unpaid tax bill.

They will tell you court action can be avoided by paying the penalty or outstanding tax bill straight away. But again, this is not true and the scammers are simply trying to scare you into handing over the money.

How to spot an HMRC tax scam

Spotting an HMRC tax scam depends on how you’ve been contacted.

HMRC Tax Refund Email Scams

Email will be the most common, particularly for the tax rebate scams.

First thing to do is check the email address the message has been sent from. Some will be very obvious to spot and have address which are just a random series of letters and number, which are obviously not real.

Others are sneakier, and will have an address ending hmrc.co.uk or hmrc.org, which look a lot more convincing, but are still fake.

But the most important thing to remember is, HMRC will NEVER contact you by email about a tax rebate or refund. So, if you get an email about this, you know it’s a scam.

If you happen to click on the link in the scam email, you will be taken to a website, which might look genuine. But, again there are tell-tale signs. Look at the web address and chances are it will be another selection of random numbers and letters.

HMRC Lawsuit Scams

The penalty and court action scams are harder to spot as they play on your natural fears about getting in serious trouble.

If you been emailed this scam, then just follow the advice above. But, chances are, these scammers will contact you by phone, as they will want to scare you into making a quick decision.

But again, you need to remember HMRC will not contact you in this way to get you to pay penalties or threaten court action. Or at least, you won’t be asked to stump up cash over the phone.

If you’re facing HMRC court action, for example, if you haven’t paid your tax bill, you will be asked to appear at a hearing and get the chance to pay before being taken to court. Aggressive and high-pressure tactics are a sure sign it’s a scam.

How to avoid HMRC phishing and phone scams?

The goal of these scams is to get you to reveal information, such as passwords, PINs, or send money directly.

First, you should never reveal personal information, even when pressured to do so. There is never any need to do this and there is no reason you would be asked for this by HMRC.

Second, you should always question why someone is pressuring you to send money straight away.

If in doubt, contact HMRC directly to ask them if the email or phone call is legitimate.

How to report HMRC scams?

HMRC have a lot of systems in place for you to report potential scams. They will then review them and add phone numbers and email addresses to known-scams lists.

If you’ve received an email or phone call which you think might be a scam, you can report it to phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk. You can simply forward on the email to this address, or send the details of the phone call. Text messages scams can be forwarded to 60599.

You should also report any scams to Action Fraud by using their online form for reporting phishing attempts. 

What to do if you’ve given out personal information

If you have given out your personal information then you should contact the HMRC security team on security.custcon@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk. You will need to give them some information, such as name, address and HMRC user ID, but don’t send personal information like bank details.

You should also report this as a genuine scam to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040, or online using their cyber crime reporting form

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