We know, this isn’t quite the first year living away from home experience you were expecting. Another awful impact of COVID-19. Well done if you’re managing to learn anything at all, online or in socially distanced lessons. You’ve really got enough going on without having to worry about con artists. So, we’ve summarised this warning from HMRC to keep you safe from some very opportunistic scammers.

We’re all skint. Why would anyone try to scam students?

Obviously, you’re studying and only earning part time, if at all right now. But students do get loans, grants and money from their parents and carers in order to fund their continuing education. Of course, there’s the holiday jobs to bring the overdraft back down to zero.

And then there’s your personal data. Lovely facts and figures that are very lucrative in the wrong hands. Scammers ask for the basics, like you name, age and address. They also set up phishing sites which ask for Government Gateway IDs and passwords, passport number verification, and bank account numbers and sort codes.

I know what I’m doing online, I’m not giving out my details to just anybody…

You’re likely to be the most cyber security aware generation. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be caught out. These cyber criminals are very good at what they do. Thousands of businesses and individuals like you get conned out of their money or personal details every year.

It’s not just emails. They send texts, WhatsApp and social media messages, and even make phone calls. All pretending to be HMRC. Sometimes they try to scare people with threats of the police if you don’t hand over your bank details and pay your tax bill immediately. Other scams take an entirely different approach and make out that you’re owed a tax rebate ‘and we just need to check your details so we can repay you’.

They also target specific groups of people at particular times of year. Like students, just as they’re starting university, usually without much previous communication with HMRC. And they are dangerous.

HMRC’s letter to all universities

HMRC’s Head of Cyber Security, Mike Fell, wrote a letter to all universities asking for their help to keep you safe from these dodgy dealings. Part of it says:

“These scams often offer fake tax refunds or help with claiming Covid-related financial help. We also see frauds offering spurious support with reclaiming council tax, purporting to be from TV Licensing, the DVLA or ‘GovUK’.

We also know students can be approached to act as ‘money mules’, with offers of reward to transfer funds through their own, genuine financial accounts, inadvertently laundering criminal funds. New university students who might have had little or no interaction with the tax system might be tricked into clicking on links in such emails or texts.

We are therefore asking each university to join us again in raising awareness of HMRC scams as early as possible in the academic year and in encouraging university leaders to ensure fraud prevention and cyber advice is integrated into your guidance for new students, to help prevent financial loss.”

You can read the letter in full, here.

It’s likely that this message is rather lost among all the COVID-19 restrictions and ever-changing rules. But that doesn’t make it any less important. Generally, HMRC have received 41,300 reports of tax rebate scams just for the month of August. In August last year, this figure was only 18,217.

HMRC constantly get phishing sites taken down, prosecute the perpetrators and monitor the national situation. But only you have the ability to keep yourself totally safe here.

How do I avoid HMRC scammers?

There are very simple, common sense things to remember:

  • Think before you click: Don’t open any attachment or click on any link in a suspicious email
  • Do not give any personal details by email, message, phone call or text: Even if they say it’s for ‘verification’
  • If it seems too good to be true, it probably is:
  • HMRC never phone and threaten to send the police round, even if you do woe them money

You may due a tax refund, but in most cases you have to submit an application. And if HMRC’s telling you, it will be by letter.

If you’re contacted by phone, they may offer you a number to call back on in order to authenticate them. Do not use it. Find a real HMRC number on GOV.UK and ring that instead.

What do I do if I’ve lost money or information to a scam?

Don’t be embarrassed. All sorts of people have been taken advantage of in this way. Ask your College, University or Student Union for help. Get in touch with HMRC and your bank as a matter of urgency. You can only report it through their real messaging or email contact details at the moment. But not by phone, due to coronavirus making secure phone lines difficult to operate.

These are the real details you need if you’ve been a victim of a scam:

  • “forward suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to phishing@hmrc.gov.ukand texts to 60599
  • contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam, and report it to Action Fraud

Chief Executive of Universities UK, Alistair Jarvis, said:

“The security and welfare of students is always a priority for universities. The message to students, at what is a particularly stressful time, is to remain vigilant and question anything that seems unusual.

Any student who fears their account may have been misused is encouraged to speak to either university support services, their bank, or to the police via Action Fraud.”