How to spot HMRC scams
Updated: Feb 7
Spot the difference between real and fake HMRC communications
In an age of MTD and tax ‘simplification’, HMRC are emailing, calling and even texting tax-payers more frequently. Hackers and con-artists have caught onto this and we’ve seen an influx of suspicious emails from people claiming to be HMRC. We communicate with HMRC on a daily basis so it’s usually easy for us to spot a fake but for those who rarely contact HMRC, the task is much more difficult. There are a few tips that can help arm you against the fraudsters:
· Try to speak to HMRC as little as possible
In most cases, you’ll have an authorised accountant that will be able to give HRMC any information they require and HMRC will be happy to speak to them instead of you. Even if they call you directly, there’s nothing wrong with telling them to speak to your accountant instead.
· Don’t give out important information
If HMRC needs details, they’ll usually request physical records or ask you to fill out a form online. If someone wants your bank details for a tax payment, chances are that their not who they say they are. If you get a call and you’re unsure if it’s legitimate, you can always ask them to request the information on paper or via email instead.
· Don’t click links
Even if you’re expecting an email from HMRC, it’s best to be skeptical when it comes to clicking links in emails. Wherever possible refer to the HMRC website and search for the page rather than using links. Texts from HMRC are rare but if you get one, don’t reply and don’t click any links unless you’re sure it’s genuine.
· Always check tax liabilities before paying
Even if you receive a genuine communication from HMRC asking for tax, you should always check with your accountant before paying (especially if you weren’t expecting the tax bill. We often encounter a situation where a client has given an incorrect reference when paying tax or HMRC have simply failed to allocate a payment to a matching tax liability. As a result, HMRC send out a threatening letter because it looks like the tax payment is late and the client panics and pays it immediately to avoid penalties or legal action. In most situations your accountant will be able to tell you if tax is due very easily by checking your online tax account or calling HMRC.
· Don’t fall for tax rebate tricks
We all love it when a chunk of tax we’ve paid finds its way into our bank account but the con-artists will try to use this against you. If you’re owed money by HMRC, they won’t call you and they won’t email you! You’ll either receive a cheque in the post or it will simply be paid into your account. If someone is trying to give you a tax rebate and you weren’t expecting it, call your accountant or call the self-assessment helpline on 0300 200 3310.
Identifying phone scams
You’d think that in 2019, phone scams would be getting replaced with email scams but HMRC received over 60,000 reports of scam calls between July 2018 and January 2019 (a 360% increase on the previous six months). The majority of these scams involve con-artists pretending to be tax inspectors (often using genuine HMRC phone numbers) and threatening legal action or even arrest if you don’t pay immediately. In reality, HMRC rarely call without prior warning and almost never ask you for payment over the phone.
Identifying email scams
We all get suspicious emails regularly but most of them are easy to spot as they usually have formatting or spelling errors. Being accountants, we get many genuine emails from HMRC these days but they never give out any sensitive information or ask for any unless we’ve pre-arranged an email exchange over the phone. If you get an email from HMRC it’s likely to either tell you to go into your online tax account to check something or it will be a generic email sent to thousands of people with some general information about legislation or deadlines. If you receive anything else from someone claiming to be from HRMC that you weren’t expecting, call HMRC or talk to your accountant before taking any action. Do not click on any links and don’t open attachments without making 100% sure that the email is genuine. If you think it’s a scam, you can forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org.