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HMRC shares advice on scam and fraud prevention

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What can accountants do to prevent cyber scams and fraud? The UK tax department recently shared its tips on digital security.

14th Sep 2021
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HMRC published a scams briefing this month to help taxpayers and agents improve their cyber security and online safety.

At a time when remote working has become the norm and we’re more reliant on our digital devices than ever, businesses need to keep up with the best ways to protect their employees, assets and sensitive data. 

Spotting fraud

HMRC warned readers to remain cautious if you are ever contacted out of the blue by a person claiming they are from the tax department. The number of spoof messages increased signficiantly in recent years as fraudsters new routes to access to money or personal information.

Counterfeit messages mimicing government comms are getting so good they can be hard to spot. If you’re ever in doubt as to the authenticity of the person you’ve been contacted by, go straight to HMRC yourself to double check. You can also search GOV.UK for HMRC scams.

HMRC will only ever contact you to discuss payments on a tax or tax credit debt that you were previously aware of, usually in the form of a letter or through your personal tax account. The department will never ring taxpayers out of the blue threatening arrest or something similar. Clients need to be alerted that any such calls are likely to be scams and should be ignored. 

HMRC recommends questioning any incoming mail on these points:

  • Is the contact unexpected?
  • Does the contact offer money, such as a refund, rebate or financial support?
  • Does the contact ask for money?
  • Does the contact act for your personal information?
  • Is the contact threatening or aggressive in any way?

Tax scam figures

In the last year, HMRC

  • received 1,048,396 referrals from the public about suspicious contact, nearly half offering bogus tax rebates or refunds
  • worked with the telecoms industry and Ofcom to remove nearly 2,460 phone numbers being used to commit tax phone scams
  • received 441,954 reports of phone scams in total, 117% up on the previous year
  • reported more than 13,315 malicious web pages for takedown
  • detected 462 Covid-19 financial scams, most by text message
  • asked internet service providers to take down 441 Covid-19 scam web pages.

What fraudsters want

These types of scammers are usually attempting to steal money or personal information to access money, or sell the data onto others.

Links in their messages could also download dangerous software onto the receiving device that could gather personal data or lock your out until a ransom is paid.

HMRC’s advice

HMRC advises taxpayers to stop and think before giving out any information or transferring money.

It also recommended not replying to texts, downloading attachments or clicking any links contained within messages supposedly from HMRC. 

Phone numbers can also be fraudulent, even if the caller ID says it is HMRC. 

It’s more than okay to reject, refuse or ignore messages. If HMRC was attempting to contact you, the officers will do so. Only scammers will try to panic you.

Protect yourself

To avoid scammers and prevent others being targeted in future, forward any suspicious looking emails to [email protected] and texts to 60599. Scam phone calls can be reported directly on GOV.UK.

If you think you have fallen victim to fraud, it’s important to contact your bank immediately and report the incident to Action Fraud (or if you’re based in Scotland, contact the police on 101).

Check out how to recognise genuine HMRC contact and how to avoid and report scams on GOV.UK for more information. You can also find helpful advice on how to keep secure online at the National Cyber Security Centre.

Replies (3)

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By SteveHa
20th Sep 2021 10:08

Ahh, advice on cyber security from those world revered experts in IT, HMRC.

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Stepurhan
By stepurhan
21st Sep 2021 08:22

Here is my advice back to HMRC on improving data security.

Be willing to pass security checks when they call us. Them asking to do security checks when they call the numbers registered for us on their systems is now, and always has been, ridiculous. I have lost count of the number of alleged HMRC staff who refused to prove who they are when they call.

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By memyself-eye
21st Sep 2021 20:07

I like it when HMRC call me, gives me someone to talk too (apart from the cat). When they ring, I talk bowlocks to them, out of reverence, cos they are important, after all.

ps: I haven't got a cat.

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