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Fraud bureau issues coronavirus scam warnings

18 March 2020: businesses and individuals are being warned to watch out for a number of coronavirus-related scams that have netted criminals hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau said it had identified 21 reports of fraud since February 2020 where Coronavirus was mentioned, with victims losing over £800,000. One company was duped out of £15,000 after purchasing a large consignment of surgical masks which were never delivered.
 
Meanwhile, a coronavirus scam email has led HMRC to issue a warning against giving out personal details or clicking links in messages that have purportedly been sent from the Government department. One poorly worded email sent to individuals claimed a “new tax refund programme” had been launched to deal with the outbreak, stating that “you are eligible to get a tax refund (rebate) of 128.34 GBP”.
 
HMRC has warned that recipients should take care when being apparently contacted by the tax authority. A spokesperson said: “We know that scammers use events that are in the news as a hook to offer spurious tax refunds. They use a range of techniques, including emailing or phoning taxpayers and offering a bogus tax refund, or threatening them with arrest if they don’t immediately pay tax owed.
 
“These scams often target the elderly and vulnerable. We are a well-known brand, which criminals abuse to add credibility to their scams,” continued the spokesperson. “If someone emails or calls you claiming to be from HMRC saying that you are owed a tax refund and asks you to click on a link or to give information such as your name, credit card or bank details, it’s a scam.”
 
HMRC added that it would never contact individuals or companies out of the blue to ask for bank details, a PIN or password. It also advised people not to give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in emails that they weren’t expecting.
 
Anyone who thinks they may have received an HMRC-related phishing or bogus email or text message, can check it against examples published on GOV.UK. The department also asked people to forward suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk and texts to 60599.
 
More information on how to avoid and report scams and to recognise genuine HMRC contact are available from GOV.UK 
 
Action Fraud advises anyone making a purchase from a company or person unknown to them, to carry out research first and if they do go ahead, make the purchase with a credit card.
 
For the latest news and advice for accountants on the COVID-19 outbreak visit ICAEW’s dedicated coronavirus hub

The Fraud Advisory Panel is also there to help.