You may have seen headlines about HMRC fraudsters before, but it is really important to be aware of the latest scams so you can keep yourself safe. They are smart enough to use the time of year to add credibility to their attempts to get at your hard earned cash.

At the moment, after the end of the tax year in April, HMRC are processing real tax refunds for those that are owed one. So criminals change the wording of their emails, texts, voicemails and calls, to say that they need your details to send you a tax refund. As lots of taxpayers are expecting an actual refund, this makes the scam much easier to believe.

How do I know that it’s a scam?

HMRC only issue tax refunds through your payroll, if you are employed, or in the post. Anything else is a scam – SMS messages, voicemails, emails, even phone calls. If you know you are due a tax rebate, you will get it through your pay from your employer. If you are self employed, you will get a cheque in the post. If you don’t know whether or not you are owed an income tax refund, you can ask HMRC or employ an accountant or tax professional. But the most important thing is not to share any information with criminals claiming to be HMRC.

The Treasury Minister, Mel Stride MP, explains: “HMRC only informs you about tax refunds through the post or through your pay via your employer. All emails, text messages, or voicemail messages saying you have a tax refund are a scam. Do not click on any links in these messages and forward them to HMRC’s phishing email address and phone number. We know that criminals will try and use events like the end of the financial year, the self-assessment deadline, and the issuing of tax refunds to target the public and attempt to get them to reveal their personal data. It is important to be alert to the danger.”

What are ‘phishing’ websites?

You’ve probably heard this term a lot in relation to people being conned out of their money. These websites ‘fish’ for your financial and personal information which the criminals can then use to empty your bank account. They get in if you click on links or open attachments in fake emails or texts.

Sometimes they lure people with the idea that their details are needed in order to receive money – like the current HMRC tax refund scam. Others try to frighten people into revealing their details by saying that they are in debt to HMRC and that a warrant is out for their arrest. Some ask for payment in iTunes voucher codes.

What should I do if I get a fake HMRC communication?

There are three things you should do if you receive a ‘phishing’ communication pretending to be from HMRC:

  1. Protect yourself: Do not reply, no matter what it says. Do not open any attachments. Do not click on any links.
  2. Forward it to Action Fraud  and HMRC’s fraud department.
  3. Delete it and stay alert for the next one. There will be a next one.

If I didn’t lose any money, why should I report it?

These criminals are being fought on a national scale and every report adds to the picture and provides evidence. They are difficult to catch and prosecute, but more and more websites are being shut down every day.

For example, HMRC asked for 2,672 illegal phishing websites to be shut down in March this year. In the same month they got 84,549 reports of phishing scams from individuals just like you.

If you have lost money, Action Fraud’s websites directs you reporting this as a crime.

Old fashioned common sense

It’s easy to dismiss scammers as stupid criminals and think that you’d never fall for a con like those mentioned above. But many people do. How many times, in the middle of a busy day, do you quickly respond to your phone’s ping without really thinking? Well, that’s all it takes. A moment’s lapse of thought, accompanied by the knowledge that you are expecting a tax refund and your bank account’s emptied. These criminals make a lot of money because they are good at what they do. They know how to manipulate people and their tech can make emails look legitimate.

Staying safe from any cyber criminals really boils down to two basic common sense rules:

  1. Do not give your bank details, passwords, personal details or PIN numbers to anyone. Nobody that is legitimate would be asking for them – including HMRC and your own bank.
  2. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you weren’t expecting a tax refund, or any other kind of financial windfall, then (unfortunately) this text/email/voicemail is fake.