How to Spot an HMRC Scam

THUD. That big brown envelope has landed on your door mat! The anxiety levels skyrocket. Am I in trouble? What do I owe? I must have done something wrong!

Fake letters from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are becoming more and more frequent, and as technology evolves so do the potential avenues available to scammers. Of late text messages, email, even social media has been used as a vehicle for HMRC imposters.

There was a staggering 915,000 reports of scams in 2020. It’s a frighteningly high figure and all indications are that it has grown still in the years following.

So how do you spot one, and what steps can you take to avoid being a victim of a HMRC scam?

Scammers are ruthless, they’ll take every opportunity and explore every avenue to distribute fake correspondence to unsuspecting individuals. They are very conscious of selecting the most opportune time to go after their prey and they target the vulnerable – those in society who may seem overly susceptible to believing well crafted messages. One prime time for fake HMRC communication to do the rounds is immediately following self-assessment deadline, another being the end of a tax year. Prompts around these times tend to be demanding urgent payments and for those business owners who are already busy and stressed (and possibly genuinely missed the deadline), the danger of succumbing to these scams is elevated.

Now, here are a few secrets as to how to spot the scam before they take your hard earned money.
First and foremost, HMRC will never send you an email or a text asking you for a payment, whatever the number, however legitimate it looks, they will and have never done so. So that one is nice and easy to disregard, just hit delete (after you’ve taken a screen shot and reported it as a HMRC scam

of course).

Fake letters may seem a little harder to spot, but you can do some standard checks that will show whether they are items of legitimate HMRC correspondence. A closer look at your name – which should be your full name no shortenings, the address, postcode and contact details of HMRC itself (which can be found here), and, often over looked, is that their logo should be a high quality image and not grainy, pixelated, cropped or badly printed. Bad grammar and English in the body of the letter is also a strong indicator of a scam attempt. But, the biggest indicator is the demand for immediate action, if this is the first time HMRC have written to you and they’re requesting immediate action alarm bells should start to sound. In a first approach HMRC will always want to discuss with you any late fees that you may owe in a genuine attempt to fix the issue before it escalates.

Another example of scamming messages are those that state that HMRC has changed its bank details and all respondents must update their future payments to go directly to “the following account”. This is of course is not what is happening in reality. HMRC changing its account details would be an upheaval on a national scale, it would warrant more press than a text message, if you fall for it your hard earned pounds will end up in the scammers account.

Most importantly, it’s wise simply to be vigilant and use common sense. If you receive any requests from HMRC that seem out of place for the way that you operate in business or within your financial affairs then approach with caution – call them before acting.

To summarise, if you do ever receive a message that you believe to be fake, you should contact HMRC directly and send them a copy of said letter/email/text message to report it as such, they can take steps towards stopping this particular line of scamming of phishing. Of course, find the contact details from another source that is not cited on the letter you believe to be spurious.

You can also report suspicious communication online here.

Have you received a fraudulent letter in the past? What did it pertain to? How did you spot it wasn’t real?

If you’d like to discuss any HMRC correspondence in greater detail please do not hesitate to contact us directly, we can help!

how to spot a scam
Helena

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how to spot a scam

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