Taxpayers are being warned to watch out for criminals posing as tax officials, who may offer them fake refunds or persuade them to pay bogus bills.
The warning from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) comes ahead of the self-assessment tax return deadline of January 31 2021.
In the past 12 months, HMRC has responded to more than 846,000 referrals of suspicious HMRC contact from the public and reported over 15,500 malicious web pages to internet service providers to be taken down.
Nearly 500,000 of the referrals from the public involved offers of bogus tax rebates.
Imposters use language intended to convince those targeted to hand over personal information, including bank details, in order to claim the “refund”.
Criminals will use this information to access customers’ bank accounts, trick them into paying fictitious tax bills, or sell on their personal information to other criminals.
HMRC’s interim director general for customer services, Karl Khan, said: “We know that criminals take advantage of the self-assessment deadline to panic customers into sharing their personal or financial details and even paying bogus ‘tax due’.
“If someone calls, emails or texts claiming to be from HMRC, offering financial help or asking for money, it might be a scam. Please take a moment to think before parting with any private information or money.”
Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, said: “It’s important to remember if you’re contacted out the blue by someone purporting to be from HMRC asking for your personal or financial details, or offering you a tax rebate, grant or refund, this could be a scam. Do not respond, hang up the phone, and take care not to click on any links in unexpected emails or text messages. You should contact HMRC directly using a phone number you’ve used before to check if the communication you have received is genuine.
“If you’ve been the victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and please report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.”
Customers can report suspect activity to HMRC at firstname.lastname@example.org and texts to 60599. They can also report phone scams online on gov.uk.
HMRC is also warning the public to be aware of websites that charge for government services – such as call connection sites – that are in fact free or charged at local call rates.
Other companies charge people for help getting “tax refunds”.
HMRC said people can safely claim a tax refund for free by logging into their personal tax account.
Here are some warning signs that a communication could be a tax scam, according to HMRC:
– It is unexpected.
– It offers a refund, tax rebate or grant.
– It asks for personal information like bank details.
– It is threatening.
– It tells you to transfer money.