Man having a phone call in front of a laptop

If you receive an unexpected email, call or text from someone claiming to work for HMRC this winter, there’s a good chance it could be a scam.

HMRC has issued this warning ahead of the 31 January 2020 self-assessment deadline, urging taxpayers to look out for scammers promising fake tax refunds or demanding the payment of an unpaid bill.

These tax scams are nothing new – over the last year, the Revenue said it received almost 900,000 reports of suspicious contact, including 100,000 phone scams and 620,000 fraudulent tax rebates.

But the numbers are likely to increase further during self-assessment season, putting more people at risk of handing over their personal details or transferring money to a criminal’s account.

While some scams have become more sophisticated and convincing over the years, there are still red flags to look out for.

How to spot a tax scam

Asking for personal details

Scammers will generally be looking for ways to obtain details from you that allow them to access your bank account. These could be passwords, bank details, or personal information that they could use to log in as you.

You might receive a call asking for this information directly, or an email with a link to enter your details. Either way, be cautious about any requests for this kind of information.

HMRC will “never contact customers asking for their PIN, password or bank details”, and the same goes for other genuine organisations such as banks and building societies.

Time pressure

A common scam tactic is to insist that you act right away.

The idea is that those targeted won’t take the time to think through what they’re doing, making them less likely to spot the warning signs.

Even if you’ve received what seems like a genuinely urgent request, there’s always time to pause and think about who’s contacting you, and what they’re asking you to do.

Threatening tone

Similarly, scammers often put pressure on their victims by threatening that a lack of response will result in negative consequences, such as legal action.

One widely reported scam involves an automated phone call where recipients are told HMRC is filing a lawsuit against them, and told to make a payment.

Others might threaten arrest or imprisonment if a tax bill is not paid right away.

Sounds too good to be true

On the other hand, a scammer might try to trick you with a positive incentive, such as an unusually large tax rebate.

If you’re ever in doubt, contact HMRC directly to ask about your account through gov.uk/contact-hmrc – don’t follow any links or contact information you’ve been given in an email or text.

You can also find a list of genuine situations where HMRC might contact you, and further guidance on spotting a fraudulent email, here.

To report suspicious contact claiming to be from HMRC, email phishing@hmrc.gov.uk or forward texts to 60599.

What to do if you’re the victim of a scam

If you think you’ve been caught out by a scam, and are worried you’ve lost money to it, make sure you contact your bank immediately.

The sooner you inform them of what’s happened, the better chance they have to stop the transfer from going through.

Under a new code of practice that was put into place in May this year, you may also be able to receive a refund if you’ve been affected by an authorised push payment (APP) scam.

Banks that have agreed to the code of practice will reimburse customers who have lost money to APP scams under certain circumstances.

It also means they commit to taking steps to protect their customers from this type of scam, including identifying higher-risk payments, warning customers where these are identified, and acting quickly when a scam is reported.

The code only applies to transfers between UK accounts, so you won’t be covered if you have transferred money overseas.

It’s also a voluntary code, so you’ll need to check that your bank has signed up.

For more information, please call 01792 410100. Alternatively, email us at mail@bevanbuckland.co.uk