Scammers often impersonate authoritative figures and organisations to deceive their victims. This could be a representative from your bank, the police, or your insurance provider. But often, they impersonate a government department – usually HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
HMRC deals with tax, payments, and customs-related issues, which makes them the ideal cover for scammers to extract personal and financial data from their targets. This is why you must take extra care if you’re contacted by someone claiming to be them.
HMRC received 181,296 referrals of suspicious forms of contact last year. Still, this figure only represents those that were reported to them. In reality, the number of scams going around is considerably higher.
To help you distinguish between genuine contact and scammers, this article will explore what HMRC scams you should be aware of, how to recognise and avoid them, how to report a scam attempt, and much more.
The most popular scam is the tax refund or rebate scam, but it also includes an automated phone call scam, a WhatsApp scam, and a customs declaration scam.
These are done using various methods such as email, text message, or phone call. That’s why it’s crucial to know what the scams are and what they look like so you don’t fall victim.
Tax rebate and refund scam
This is perhaps the most popular type of HMRC scam out there. In the 12 months leading up to August 2022, HMRC identified over 80,000 scams related to tax and refunds, almost 50% of the total scams reported to them.
The scam involves receiving an email or text message claiming you are eligible for a tax refund or rebate. In order to claim it, you must click on a link imitating the official website. In some cases, they will ask for your details via the messaging service they contacted you on, which is even more of a red flag.
You will then be asked to enter your personal details – such as your name, address, and date of birth – and your bank account details – such as account number and credit card details. Scammers will then use this information to engage in identity fraud, steal your money, or both.
It should be mentioned that as a policy, HMRC will never ask for your financial details over email or text. This will be done on the official GOV.UK website.
This is important to know because scammers often use email or SMS spoofing, where they change the sender details to look like they were sent from an official government email address or number in order to trick victims.
As such, if you ever receive an email or text message claiming you are eligible for a tax refund and they ask you to diverge specific personal or payment information – no matter how legitimate it looks – it’s a scam.
Automated phone call scam
Automated scam phone calls are becoming increasingly popular these days as it requires minimal effort from the scammer.
This is where you receive a call with an automated message informing you that HMRC is either filing a lawsuit against you for late payment or that you have partaken in National Insurance number fraud and are required to make a payment to avoid prosecution.
You are presented with various options, one being to speak to an agent to resolve the issue. If you follow through with it, you will be asked to provide personal or financial details to verify your identity and make the outstanding payment.
As you might have guessed, this information is then used to steal your money and/or engage in identity fraud.
Therefore, you mustn’t provide any information to them. If you receive a scam call such as this, the best course of action is to simply hang up the phone, take note of the number, block it, and report it to HMRC.
WhatsApp has a variety of use cases. It is a wonderful tool for keeping in touch with friends and family, engaging in free phone and video calls, and sending messages to contacts in bulk.
However, receiving updates or notifications from HMRC is not one of them.
As a rule of thumb, HMRC does not contact customers via WhatsApp. So if you receive any form of communication via the app, it’s a red flag – a malicious person is trying to scam you. Do not engage with the message under any circumstances.
Calmly report it, block the number, and delete the message.
Customs declaration scam
This is another common scam and involves an email or text message informing the customer that they must pay a customs duty charge for a parcel.
If you aren’t expecting an international parcel, this is an easy scam to identify and should be reported and deleted immediately.
However, suppose you are expecting a parcel. In that case, it’s important to verify where the parcel is being sent from before providing your personal details or card details for payment.
As you may have noticed from the examples above, most scam calls, messages, or emails have a few things in common. They tend to:
- Change your emotional state
- Require urgent action
- Request sensitive information
- Contain suspicious links or attachments
- Offer monetary rewards
Scammers want to put you in a heightened emotional state, whether that be panic through informing you of an outstanding HMRC payment or excitement through notifying you of your eligibility for a tax refund.
By changing your emotional state and introducing a sense of urgency, scammers aim to elicit an irrational reaction from you.
Since you’re now thinking emotionally – not logically – you may miss the signs of their scam and, thus, provide them with the exact information they want.
It’s a classic scammers recipe, but thousands of people fall victim to these HMRC scams every year.
You should also be aware of certain inconsistencies. Scammers cast a wide net and aim for quantity instead of quality. What we mean by this is that they’ll send the scam to as many people as possible with the hopes that a portion of them can be tricked without checking for irregularities.
But if you look closely, there are often spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and inconsistencies in their story. Again, if you’re panicked or excited, you may not catch them.
If your first reaction is to do as they say, take a deep breath and approach it objectively. You’ll likely find that there are tell-tale signs that their claims are untrue.
If you think you’re on the receiving end of an HMRC scam, there is a simple and easy-to-remember protocol you can follow:
- Do not under any circumstances reveal any personal or financial information
- If you’re on a phone call with a suspicious caller, end the call immediately
- If you have received a suspicious text message or email, do not click a link or download any attachments
- Report the mobile phone number or email address to HMRC
- Block the phone number and email address
- Delete all suspicious emails and text messages
There are legitimate reasons for HMRC to contact you, and they do so using various forms of communication – post, email, text message, or phone call. Examples include when logging into your HMRC account, making a payment, surveys, etc.
Luckily, HMRC has a convenient list on their website that details reasons for contacting UK residents and the communication methods by which this is done. This means that if they’ve tried to communicate with you via post, call, text message, or email, it will be listed there.
It’s worth checking to see if the reason for your supposed HMRC contact is referenced there. If it isn’t, you’ve been the victim of a scam attempt and should report it as soon as possible.
If you’re ever in doubt, the best thing you can do is contact HMRC through their official contact channels – all of which can be found on the HMRC website.
It’s important to never use the lines of communication outlined in suspicious text messages, calls, or emails. These are often spoofed to look like the real thing but are set up by the scammers themselves.
Yes, there are instances where HMRC will send a text message, such as for appointment reminders, updates for a Self-Assessment return, or a survey after a call – among others. And this is where it can get tricky.
Official HMRC texts sometimes come with links, but unlike scams, they are usually to the GOV.UK websites. That’s why it’s vital to double and triple-check the link provided in text messages. If you’re unsure, it’s better to be safe than sorry and avoid clicking it altogether.
Instead, you can opt to call them directly to confirm if an official number has sent the text message and whether the link is legitimate. Alternatively, you can navigate to the desired page using Google.
Something to be mindful of is that HMRC will never ask for sensitive information, such as financial or personal details, over a text message.
There are multiple ways to report a scam to HMRC – via email, text message, or online through the government website – and the best method will depend on the type of scam.
If you are on the receiving end of an HMRC email scam, you can forward all details to HMRC’s phishing unit: [email protected].
It’s important to include a short description of what you’re reporting in the subject line. This could be something as simple as ‘HMRC phone scam’ or ‘suspicious email address’.
Although the phishing team will be able to view the forwarded email, it’s also recommended to include a few sentences about what the email entails, why you are suspicious of it, etc., as this can speed up the investigation process.
Much like email, you can also report suspicious activity you've received via text message.
If you have received a scam text, forward it to the number 60599.
It should be noted that you will be charged your usual network rate for all text messages.
HMRC has an online form to report suspicious phone calls, numbers, and phone scams. It’s an easy process, log in and fill in the required details.
HMRC letter scams are far less frequent than the others mentioned, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
If you think you’ve received one, contact the HMRC department of the letter you’ve been sent.
For example, if you receive a suspicious Tax Credit letter, contact the Tax Credit department to clarify whether it’s genuine.
Regardless of the reporting method you choose, please remember not to engage with emails or text messages – particularly concerning links or attachments – to block the sender, and delete the message once you’re done.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam and have given financial details away, the first you should do is contact your bank to explain the situation. This will ensure that they can freeze your card and/or bank account before the scammer can steal your funds.
The next step is to report the incident to Action Fraud. Since each circumstance is different, they will be able to advise you on the next course of action for your specific case.
HMRC is amongst the most popular organisations that scammers use to deceive victims, of which there are the popular tax rebates scam, automated phone call scam, WhatsApp scam, and customs declaration scam.
If you’re suspicious of any form of HMRC contact, you must never disclose sensitive information to them. Instead, call HMRC directly to verify if the message you’ve received is genuine, and report the incident before deleting the message.