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Anyone can be a victim of digital scammers, warns HMRC


Published: 26 Aug 2021 Update History

Taxpayers are being urged to remain cautious of digital approaches claiming to be from HMRC, as tax-related scams have almost doubled in the past 12 months. ICAEW’s Tax Faculty highlights HMRC support on spotting scams and checking that contact is genuine.

Writing to voluntary and community sector groups this week, HMRC’s Head of Cyber Security, Mike Fell, starkly warned: “These crimes often target the busy, unwary or vulnerable, but anyone can become a victim.”

He confirmed that the coronavirus pandemic had given criminals a “fresh hook for their activity”, with more than 460 COVID financial support scams detected by HMRC since early 2020, mostly by text message.

Furthermore, in the last year HMRC: 

  • received more than a million referrals from the public about suspicious contact, nearly half offering bogus tax ”rebates” or “refunds”;
  • worked with the telecoms industry and Ofcom to remove nearly 2,460 phone numbers being used to commit tax phone scams; 
  • received 441,954 reports of phone scams in total, 117% up on the previous year;
  • reported more than 13,315 malicious webpages for takedown; and
  • asked internet service providers to take down 441 COVID-19 scam web pages.

At the end of July 2021, HMRC published a webpage to help taxpayers check that the contact they have received is genuinely from HMRC.

The page confirms that the number that HMRC texts from has changed recently, alongside detailing how taxpayers may be contacted for various ongoing research projects, including on off-payroll working and on corporation tax reliefs.

It also lists how it contacts taxpayers as part of standard processes, such as issuing statutory notices requesting information and contacting VAT-registered businesses that no longer need to hold a registration number.

To further support taxpayers and agents in spotting potential scammer activity, HMRC publishes examples of HMRC-related phishing emails, phone calls and texts, as well as guidance on how to spot scam contacts.

It urges anyone that has received suspicious contact to report scam activity and also asks for reports of any security vulnerability within its online services.

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