You’ve got just over a month left before the 2020-21 self assessment tax return filing deadline on 31st January 2022. Which means that criminals have that same amount of time left to make the most of their specifically tailored tax rebate and self assessment frauds.

Here’s how to avoid the scams and protect your information and money.

How big is the problem?

The problem of fake HMRC communications is absolutely enormous. So you need to be proactive in protecting yourself. HMRC has a section dedicated to fighting these criminals, but we all need to support them with this. By checking that all communications are genuine before you exchange any kind of information, and by reporting any scams to the appropriate place.

HMRC statistics for the last 12 months:

  • 8,562 criminal web pages reported for takedown
  • Removed 1,282 phone numbers used in phone scams, worked with Ofcom and telecoms companies to achieve this
  • 21% increase in reported phone scams, a total of 327,044
  • Received 797,010 reports of suspicious communications from members of the public, 357,567 were offering fake tax rebates

That’s nearly 800,000 reports to HMRC – imagine how many fake calls, messages and emails are actually sent.

Real HMRC communication

The deadline for 2020-21 tax returns is the 31st January 2022. Hence the criminal’s focus on offering tax return help or tax rebates at this time of year. To support taxpayers, HMRC sends real emails to remind them of the date, the ways to pay your tax bill and signpost further help. These are real and part of HMRC’s role as tax administrator.

HMRC’s Director General for Customer Services, Myrtle Lloyd, said:

“Never let yourself be rushed. If someone contacts you saying they’re from HMRC, wanting you to urgently transfer money or give personal information, be on your guard.

“HMRC will also never ring up threatening arrest. Only criminals do that. Scams come in many forms. Some threaten immediate arrest for tax evasion, others offer a tax rebate.

“Contacts like these should set alarm bells ringing, so if you are in any doubt whether the email, phone call or text is genuine, you can check the ‘HMRC scams’ advice on GOV.UK and find out how to report them to us.”

Keep yourself safe

This is the only way for us all to avoid being scammed. The first step is slowing down your own response times. We’re all very used to immediately replying to messages and emails – and this works in the fraudsters’ favour. If you receive communication that’s claiming to be from HMRC, your first step must be to check it’s real. Start from a place of suspicion. And do what you need to do first, before you instantly respond.

HMRC publish a list of known scams, so you can check the email address against known fakes. HMRC will never tell you about a tax rebate or ask for your private information by message. Phone calls can feel a lot more difficult to get yourself out of. But remember, you’re in charge, and all you really need to do is hang up. You don’t owe them your time or manners. Then you can call a real HMRC phone number – by dialling it out, not hitting dial back – and ask if HMRC really need to talk to you.

Some of these calls are deliberately intimidating and claim that the bailiffs or police are being sent round immediately if you don’t pay your tax bill. These are effective because they frighten people. But HMRC never interact with taxpayers in this way and debt collection is a last resort if many previous steps don’t resolve the situation.

You can report any suspicious calls, messages and emails here. Even if you’ve not lost any money or details, it’s worth reporting them because it contributes to the national picture and helps in the fight against them.