As if the pandemic wasn’t enough to contend with, it seems that fraudsters are increasingly leaning on COVID-19 concerns to target unsuspecting people and businesses with scams.
HMRC has recorded a record number of tax scams in the past twelve months, including 553,000 fake tax rebates via text, letter, or email. They’ve also had to work with Ofcom to remove over 3,000 dodgy phone numbers that have been put to use by scammers.
Phishing attacks of this kind are particularly cruel because they prey on individuals when they’re at their most vulnerable.
With so many HMRC scams circulating our inboxes, text messages, and incoming phone calls, we thought it would be a good idea to arm you with the latest knowledge of what to look out for.
What is a phishing attack?
First things first, let’s confirm exactly what we’re looking out for here.
Phishing is a form of social engineering which is used by criminals to steal your data, credit card numbers, or login credentials. They work on the basis of building trust with the victim in order to obtain the information desired.
Such attacks can have terrible results. They can lead to identify theft, the stealing of money, or unauthorised purchases.
Without further ado, here are some of the latest HMRC-related scams to look out for.
The fake tax refund notification scams
Ooh, we all love a tax refund, don’t we? Therefore, it’s understandable if you jump on one when it lands in your email inbox.
Not so fast!
There’s a phishing campaign doing the rounds which suggests you can claim for a tax refund via the SEISS (Self-Employment Income Support Scheme). This is particularly cruel, because it targets self-employed workers who have needed such funding to get them through the pandemic.
The subject line might read something like ‘HMRC SEISS Tax Refund Notification’, and the email will go on to suggest that claims have opened for the latest application. You’ll be asked to “sign in to HMRC online services” and follow the steps.
Do not reply to this message or click the links. Contact HMRC directly via the phone if you receive anything that looks remotely like the above.
COVID text scams
There are a couple of COVID-related text scams it’s worth keeping an eye out for.
The first will suggest that there’s a new “lockdown support plan” available. There’s no such thing. Regardless, it’ll suggest that you’re entitled to funding to help you get through lockdown. Ignore it.
The second refers to something called a ‘COVID-19 refund’. Again, this doesn’t exist.
The text will suggest that HMRC (often incorrectly referred to as “UK-GOV”) has issued a handsome payment to you. Only, to claim the payment, you’ll need to click a link. Don’t. Delete it.
You may receive similar messages via WhatsApp, and the sender’s name may even pop up as ‘HMRC’. It isn’t them – HMRC will never contact you via WhatsApp, so make sure you delete the message immediately.
The same goes for social media scams. Although rare, some people have been targeted by scammers via platforms like Twitter. This is usually on the basis that a ‘refund’ is available from HMRC and asks the user to click through to a website. If you receive a direct message like this on social media, don’t follow the instructions; delete it instead.
HMRC will never contact you in this manner
It’s important to bear in mind that HRMC will never contact you in the ways described above.
If you’re lucky enough to receive a tax rebate or refund, you’ll receive that familiar brown envelope in the post; HMRC won’t send you an email or text message about it.
When you receive emails or texts purporting to be from HMRC, make sure you don’t:
- open any attachments;
- click any links; or
- call any telephone numbers.
Fraudsters work hard to make their communications look as genuine as possible by ‘spoofing’ real email addresses or changing the ‘from’ name so that it appears genuine.
Although slightly rarer, you may also receive suspicious phone calls from people pretending to work for HMRC. Often, these calls are automated, and you’ll be asked by a recorded voice to press a number to speak to make a payment. It’s vital that you end calls like this immediately because, again, HMRC will never contact you in this way.
The general rule of thumb remains: if you’re suspicious, delete or ignore it and contact HMRC directly.
We’ll keep an eye on the latest phishing scams, but if you’ve got any queries or concerns about what we’ve covered today, just get in touch with the friendly Trinity team.