Freelance Journalist
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HMRC warns of cyberattacks on new students

Tax scam messages target first-year students


Students aren’t just experiencing problems with Covid-19 this autumn, cyber criminals are also lying in wait to nab their cash.

21st Oct 2020
Freelance Journalist
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Phishing attacks and social engineering are a fact of business life, but this term HMRC has been warning UK universities about a surge in cyber attacks on students who are living away from home for the first time.

Scam artists and fraudsters typically target students at the beginning of the academic year, preying on their lack of knowledge and experience with the tax system to trick them into sharing their personal details. Offering bogus tax rebates is one of the most common ploys.

Or the criminals will pressure their victims into handing over banking details by including malicious links in ominous-sounding official emails, texts or phone calls.

The chaos surrounding the coronavirus crisis and the sudden surge in online learning has given fraudsters new ways to scam unsuspecting students.

Scams tailored around fraudulent Covid-19 relief claims have been circulating since March and 74,800 different scam emails, text messages and phone calls were logged in August, half of which offered fake tax rebates.

Mike Fell, head of cyber operations at HMRC, recently wrote to vice chancellors at UK universities to enlist their help in raising awareness of the scale of the fraud threat to students: “We are concerned that the new academic year and remote working in academia will see another wave of email and text tax scams, targeting a new and potentially vulnerable university intake.

“These scams often offer fake tax refunds or help with claiming Covid-related financial help. We also see frauds offering spurious support with reclaiming council tax, purporting to be from TV Licensing, the DVLA or GovUK.”

Em Anderson, welfare, community, and diversity officer at UEA Students’ Union told AccountingWEB that the organisation was working with the university to warn students about the risks.

But the actual threat levels encountered have not yet matched the publicity. Asked whether UEA students had experienced an upsurge in Covid-related financial scams, Anderson said: “We haven’t seen a rise in these type of cases, but our advice team are always on hand to support any students who have been the victim of, or suspect they have been a target of a scam.”

The universities of Sussex and Nottingham warned their students of potential Covid-19 digital scams and phishing attacks, offering them fraud prevention advice from HMRC.

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