How to spot a HMRC scam
QUESTION: I was contacted recently from a person pretending to be from HMRC and suggesting I had an outstanding tax liability and I should pay it through a link they were providing. I thought this was a scam as all my taxes are up to date and this was confirmed by my accountant. How do you prevent other people from falling for these scams?
ANSWER: The core purpose of a HMRC scam call is to persuade you to make a payment in order to settle a tax liability and avoid a large fine, or even arrest.
Jim Harra, chief executive of HMRC, said recently: “We are aware of recent increases in scam phone calls, emails and texts. If someone contacts you claiming to be from HMRC saying that you owe tax and face arrest, or due a tax refund, that your national insurance number has been compromised, or asking you to transfer money, or for bank or other personal details, it might be a scam.”
There are several different forms of scam communications:
1 Letters – These can be sent through the post or they may be sent as an email. They will usually ask for personal information such as your bank account number or passwords, or they may ask you to forward the letter on to another person.
2 Phone calls – The scammer may call you directly or they may leave a voicemail message. They will usually tell you that you have failed to declare income on your tax return or that you are being investigated for tax fraud.
3 Text messages – The scammer may send text messages to your phone, and they may include official-looking HMRC branding. The text messages will usually ask for personal information such as your bank account number or passwords.
4 Other – There are a number of other ways in which the scam messages can be sent to you, and they include:
• Email messages that look like official HMRC emails but actually contain malware or a link to a fake website. If you receive an email message that claims to be from HMRC, it is important to check whether the sender's email address has been spoofed. A spoofed email address will show the HMRC logo and the @hmrc.gov.uk domain, but it will not have an @official-hmrc.gov.uk suffix.
• Pop-up messages, which will say that you must pay back taxes immediately or face legal action, and it will ask you to click on a link. If you do click on the link, this will take you to a fake HMRC website that asks for personal information such as your bank account number or passwords. When the pop-up message appears, close it without clicking on any links.
HMRC have also offered some advice to anyone who receives a scam call, text or email. They recommend taking the following actions:
• Forward any suspicious text messages to HMRC's phishing team on 60599.
• Take a screenshot of any messages received via WhatsApp and send them via email to: email@example.com.
• Forward any suspicious emails to the same email address detailed above.
• Send an email to HMRC detailing the time, date, and telephone number of any suspicious phone calls.
Due to the increase in fraudulent repayment claims being made, HMRC have begun to issue letters asking individuals to verify repayment claims made through their income tax self-assessment returns.
If HMRC identify a repayment claim that gives them some concern, they will contact individuals in two stages in order to verify firstly their identity, and then to answer some questions about the claim they have made. These letters are genuine and are known as SURF1 and SURF2 letters.
As a general rule, make sure you never click on links contained in suspicious emails or download any attachments.
:: Feargal McCormack (firstname.lastname@example.org) is partner at FPM Accountants (www.fpmaab.com). The advice in this column is specific to the facts surrounding the question posed. Neither the Irish News nor the contributors accept any liability for any direct or indirect loss arising from any reliance placed on replies