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Whilst the COVID-19 outbreak reverberates across the UK and across the globe, many of us are deeply concerned with what happens next.  Unfortunately, this also opens the doors for many scammers who see the pandemic and uncertainty as an opportunity to make money.  Scams are one of the most common types of crime seen in the UK, and coronavirus provides scammers and fraudsters with an ideal environment to unleash their scams.

In March, City of London police reported a 400% increase in scams, largely as a result of coronavirus-related fraud.  These range from emails and SMS messages sending you to phishing site, or laden with malware to infect your device or computer; to criminals brassily going door-to-door offering help to go shopping for people who are at home, self-isolating.  People are being warned to be wary of scam phone calls and visitors to your home from people.

HMRC claim to have seen an increase in fake HMRC tax scam emails and phone calls.  It was reported in the 2018/2019 tax year that an alarming 900,000 reports of scams were reported.  The majority of these were fake tax refunds apparently from HMRC.  These amounted to 620,000 reports of scams, although the actual figures was surely higher than this.  Normally HMRC will automatically take a tax refund out of their salary, however this isn’t the case for the self-employed.  Millions of self-employed in the UK file Self-Assessment tax returns every year.  This makes them the main targets for the tax refund scammers.

The tax scams are unfortunately becoming slicker and more sophisticated.  Some may even mention your own personal Government Gateway Account number.  HMRC have highlighted the following recent scams.

Email Tax Refund Scam

What is it?

There are a number of phishing campaigns advising customers they are entitled to claim a tax refund in light of the coronavirus outbreak.  This type of email has been distributed in a number of formats.  They often include the HMRC logo and the same font used by the Tax Office.  They ask you to apply for the refund via a link within the email.  Once you click on that link scammers can capture all your personal details as you input it.

Here is an example of a few of the fraud emails currently in circulation.

New Tax Calculation Scams – Example 1

Hello xxx

We have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund for 200.00 GBP.

Please Click Refund and submit the tax refund request

Note: A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons, for example submitting invalid records or applying after deadline ..

New Tax Calculation Scams – Example 2

Refund ID : 12345678

Hello xxx

New Tax Calculation

We have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of 243.22 GBP

Please Click Refund and submit the tax refund request

Note: A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons, for example submitting invalid records or applying after deadline ..

Classic Tax Calculation Scams – Example 3

HM Revenue & Customs has decided that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of 396.28 GBP after the re-calculation for Year 2017.  If you would like to claim your annual tax refund online you need to complete a required form with the information needed.

If you will not complete the required form now, you will not be able to claim your annual tax refund online.

How can you tell if the ‘HMRC’ email is a scam?

Most importantly HMRC will never contact customers by email or text, advising them they are due a refund.  HMRC will only advise this by a letter through the post.  Furthermore, they will never contact customers by phone, or ask a third party to contact customers on their behalf.  In a nutsell, if it doesn’t come in the post from HMRC, its fake!

Other ways to tell if it’s fake are more obvious including bad grammar, spelling and incorrect use of English.  We include here some of the reported email addresses HMRC have seen.  Please note too, the second email address is the sender field will usually give the game away.

  • reve.alert@hmrc.gov.uk
  • services@hmrc.co.uk
  • noreply@hmrevenue.com
  • service@hmrc.gov.uk
  • service.refund@hmrc.gov
  • secure@hmrc.co.uk
  • hmrc@gov.uk
  • taxes@hmrc.co.uk
  • taxrefund-notice@hmrc.gov.uk
  • taxrefund@hmrc.gov.uk
  • refund-help@hmrc.gov.uk
  • service@online.com
  • email@hmrc.gov.uk
  • refund.alert@hmrc.gov.uk
  • refunds@hmrc.gov.uk
  • srvcs@hmrc.gov.uk
  • alertsonline@hmrc.co.uk
  • info@hmrc.gov.uk
  • rebate@hmrc.gov.uk

What should you do if you receive a Tax Refund Scam email?

If you are suspicious of any email of contact from HMRC, forward it to phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk.  Once you’ve done that, delete it!  Do not visit the website from the link in the email or open any attachments.  Furthermore, do not under any circumstances disclosed any personal details or payment information.

HMRC have also reported these refund scams to come via SMS.  If you received a fake SMS, send it to 60599, then delete it.

Other Examples of HRMC Scams

  • Goodwill payment scam:  An example of wording includes, “As part of the NHS promise to battle the COV-19virus, HMRC has issued a payment of £258 as a goodwill gesture.  Follow link to apply.”  Do not reply to the SMS or open any links in the SMS message
  • ‘£250 fine’ SMS:  Entitled GOV.UK ALERT CORONAVIRUS.  It stated you will be fined £250 for leaving the house more than once.  The message prompts to call an 0800 number to appeal before the fine escalates to £5,000
  • Bogus Phone Calls: An automated phone call scam advising you HMRC is filing a lawsuit against you.  Scammers will target elderly and vulnerable people.  It is important, if you can’t identify the identity of the caller, do not speak to them.
  • WhatsApp messages: HMRC will never use WhatsApp, so if you receive one claiming to be HMRC it is a scam.  Delete it!
  • Social Media Scams: It has been reported scammers have used Twitter offering a refund.  HMRC never use social media so any messages via social media will be a scam.
  • Refund Companies: Some companies are offering assistance to to apply for a tax rebate on your behalf.  These companies have no connection with HMRC whatsoever.
  • Tax Investigation: If you are to be investigated by HMRC, they will formally contact you by post, not email, SMS or via a third party.  For any advice on Tax Investigations whether it be PAYE Tax Investigation, Self-Assessment Tax Investigation or Company Tax Investigation, please contact us.

In these uncertain times it is even more important you remain vigilant.  If you have been the victim of any scam and suffered financial loss, report it to Action Fraud.  Action Fraud are the UK’s national centre for reporting any fraud or cybercrime.