Fake text: Scammers tempt people with bogus refunds
Young adults who are unfamiliar with the tax system are prime targets for fraudsters tempting them with bogus refunds via text message, warn HMRC officials.
A springtime blitz of refund scams coincides with the kick-off to the new tax year on 6 April, with a quarter of a million reports of suspicious approaches – nearly 2,500 a day – received at this time last year.
Criminals deluge taxpayers with emails and texts that pretend to be from HMRC during the same period that tax offices are working on legitimate rebates or demands for extra payments.
A typical rip-off involves a text like the one above, which encourages people to provide their bank details to get a payment of a few hundred pounds.
Fake Government websites then harvest private information and use it to steal money from unwitting victims, according to HMRC.
Last year, it targeted some 6,000 phishing websites to get them shut down.
If you are unsure of whether an approach is genuine or a scam, the crucial thing to know is that HMRC never asks taxpayers to provide their bank details by text or email.
Fake email: HMRC released this example to warn people not to fall for them
What happens in reality if you have paid too much tax is HMRC will either automatically credit your bank account if it knows about one, or if not send you a cheque.
If you have not paid enough tax, HMRC will tell you much you owe and how to pay securely.
See the tips below for what to do if you think you have been targeted in a scam, or want to know if any contact is legitimate. If you think you have already fallen victim, contact your bank immediately.
Recently, fraudsters have also launched a wave of robot or personal calls threatening dire legal consequences if people don’t pay large tax bills immediately.
This is Money has reported on cases of people paying thousands of pounds to scammers, who are making aggressive calls trying to scare people about imminent raids on their property, hefty financial penalties and prison sentences.
Sometimes they have cloned HMRC’s real phone number (usually 0300 200 3300) to dupe people into thinking they are actually dealing with the tax authorities.
Nowadays, it is relatively easy to spoof numbers to make it appear you are calling from the Government or a company.
In one case, a widow was menaced by a caller demanding £8,000 out of the blue.
This is Money was approached by her sister, who was anxious her late brother-in-law might have owed money to the taxman.
Luckily, her sister had stood her ground and refused to hand over any money without seeing proof of a tax debt.
We contacted HMRC on their behalf to find a secure contact they could talk to, and also got a tax expert to explain what to do if you are contacted by someone claiming to be from HMRC, and are unsure whether the approach is legitimate or a scam.
She gave details about how HMRC operates when it is genuinely owed money and pursuing a debt.
HMRC’s tips to guard against scams
The taxman offers the following advice:
* Recognise the signs – genuine organisations like banks and HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, password or bank details.
* HMRC will never advise you of a refund in an e-mail or SMS message.
* Stay safe – don’t give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in emails you weren’t expecting.
* Take action – forward suspicious emails and details of suspicious calls claiming to be from HMRC to email@example.com and texts to 60599, if you have suffered financial loss contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use their online fraud reporting tool.
* If you think you have received an HMRC related phishing/bogus email or text message, you can check it against the examples shown in this guide.
Angela MacDonald, head of customer services at HMRC, said: ‘We are determined to protect honest people from these fraudsters who will stop at nothing to make their phishing scams appear legitimate.
‘HMRC is currently shutting down hundreds of phishing sites a month. If you receive one of these emails or texts, don’t respond and report it to HMRC so that more online criminals are stopped in their tracks.”
The head of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, said: ‘These criminals will contact victims in many ways including spoofed calls, voicemails and text messages.
“People should spot the signs of fraud and be wary of emails with attachments which might contain viruses designed to obtain personal or financial information.’
Katy Worobec of Take Five, the national campaign that advises on protection against financial fraud, said: ‘The offer of a tax rebate might sound tempting, but don’t let the criminals hoodwink you into giving away your details or your cash.
‘If you’re worried that you might have given away any of your information, then contact your bank straight away.’
Prime target: Young adults who are not familiar with the tax system are sent texts about bogus refunds, which tempt them to hand over their bank details