If you need to submit a self assessment tax return for the 2018-19 tax year, you know the deadline is 11.59pm on 31st January 2020. Unfortunately, so do the scammers who con thousands of pounds out of honest taxpayers every year. They do target marketing too. So this is our regular warning to be careful of their latest tactics.

How big is the problem?

HMRC received almost 900,000 reports from taxpayers about suspicious texts, emails and phone calls. The vast majority of these use the ‘you are due a tax rebate’ line, more than 620,000 in one year. As the self assessment tax return deadline gets closer, it’s a great time for them to increase this particular focus.

Phone contact was involved in over 100,000 incidents. Bearing in mind that these are only the scams people have bothered to report. Imagine how many get sent out and are just ignored or deleted by the recipients.

Not passing the buck

This is not about victim blaming. It’s not your fault if you get conned. These criminals use sophisticated psychological techniques and hone their skills continuously. HMRC report on these scams in order to help people protect themselves. Knowledge really is power. Which is why we regularly highlight HMRC advice on these matters.

How do the self assessment scams work?

Sometimes you might get a phone call telling you its HMRC and you’re due a tax rebate. They just need your bank details to send you the money. You give them your account and PIN number, along with confirming some other details and they empty your bank account.

Alternatively, they may send an email with links to a phishing website that then harvests all your details and, again, steals your money and possibly even your identity. These are usually very well replicated pages that look just like the real HMRC website.

Other ploys includes phoning to say that you owe HMRC money, demanding payment immediately. These phone calls have been known to escalate into frightening threats of police and prison time, if a bill is not settled. A really terrifying experience for anyone. We all know that HMRC has a penalties system for late filing and non payment of tax bills, which makes such threats seem plausible.

How would I know the difference between legitimate and fake HMRC contact?

Ways to protect yourself from scammers:

  • HMRC and other real organisations will not ask you for your bank details, PIN or password.
  • Do not click on links to HMRC’s self assessment page. Type the proper address into your search engine: gov.uk/hmrc. Then search for the online self assessment tax return section.
  • Do not click on links in a suspicious email or text.
  • Do not open any attachments that come with an uncertain email.
  • Do not reply to text messages.
  • If you get a dodgy message or email, forward it to HMRC before you delete it. Texts go to 60599 and emails to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk. This builds up their national database of information and helps shut down illegal sites.
  • Call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 immediately if you lose any money to these con artists. You have nothing to be embarrassed about.