The start of April marks the beginning of a new tax year. And while this brings with it a host of unwelcome price and tax increases, it’s also a prime time of year for scammers posing as HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
So what do the scams look like, and how can you avoid being caught out?
The fake email
The most common tax scam takes the form of an email which appears to be from HMRC.
As this is a time of year when the taxman will start working out which taxpayers are due a refund, the scammers try to take advantage by sending out messages which claim that the recipient is due a bumper rebate from HMRC.
In order to get your hands on that cash, you’ll be told to follow links in the email through to a website where you can enter your details.
Of course, in reality you’re being steered over to a shady website which wants to capture your personal and bank details. From here, the scammers hope to have enough information to either access your account and empty it, or else commit identity fraud.
This is where they pose as you in order to open credit products, and make off with the money.
Spotting a fake HMRC email
There are a number of telltale signs that the email you’ve received is not genuine.
The first thing to check is whether the email actually does come from a legitimate HMRC address. To do this, ensure that it comes from an email address ending ‘@hmrc.gov.uk’.
Another clear sign that the email is a fake is that it encourages you to take immediate action, warning that if you don’t you may either miss out on a supposed rebate, or risk prosecution if the email is claiming that you in fact owe money. This is a scare tactic, designed to stop you from thinking logically and instead act quickly, without thinking things through properly.
Next, look at how the email addresses you. If you’re being contacted by the taxman, the email will actually use your name, as well as highlight ways to spot scam emails pretending to be from the taxman. But a scam email will often use a generic greeting, such as ‘Dear sir’.
Another thing to look out for is the standard of English. These dodgy emails often originate from overseas, and as a result there may be some peculiar spellings or odd uses of punctuation in there.
HMRC has actually published some examples of fake emails, and even text messages, that scammers have sent out posing as the taxman on its website. They are well worth a look if you want to avoid getting caught out.
They might try a phonecall too
Scammers are increasingly likely to try their luck with a dodgy phone call as well. There have been a host of reports about people receiving automated phone calls, claiming to be from the taxman and stating that the recipient is under investigation.
You will be invited to call them back on a separate number, at which point the crooks will try to get you to share your various account details, so that they can get their hands on your cash or commit identity fraud.
HMRC has been very clear that it will never contact people in this way in order to discuss their tax affairs. As a result, if you get a call out of the blue from someone claiming to represent the taxman, be clear that it’s a scam and hang up.