HMRC Warning: Rising Self-Assessment Scams and How to Avoid Them

In the midst of the self-assessment tax return season, UK citizens are facing a surge in tax scams. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has issued a stark warning for taxpayers to remain vigilant, as deceptive schemes have significantly escalated in the past year.

An Alarming Surge in Fraudulent Activities

HMRC has exposed a worrying trend, revealing that over 130,000 tax scam reports were filed in the year leading up to September 2023. As the January 31, 2024, deadline for self-assessment tax returns looms, nearly 12 million people are at risk of being targeted by these cunning frauds.

Scammers have been particularly focused on fake tax rebate schemes, which accounted for 58,000 of the reported scams. The sophistication of these scams poses a real challenge; some appear so authentic because they mimic legitimate companies offering tax refund services.

How Scammers Operate

These fraudsters employ various tactics to con taxpayers. They’re known to send convincing emails, texts, or calls impersonating HMRC officials. In many cases, they falsely alert individuals to tax rebates or refunds due, luring them into providing personal and financial information.

Additionally, some schemes involve aggressive threats, like immediate arrest for supposed tax evasion, or demands to update tax details, creating a sense of urgency and panic.

Myrtle Lloyd, HMRC’s Director General for Customer Services, stresses the craftiness of these criminals, stating, “Criminals are great pretenders who try and dupe people by sending emails, phone calls, and texts which mimic government messages to make them appear authentic.

Financial experts foresee a potential spike in such scams as the online filing deadline approaches, especially with more first-time filers entering the system and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis making fraudulent promises of tax rebates even more enticing.

Recognising and Responding to Scams

HMRC advises extreme caution with any unexpected communication claiming to be from them, especially those requesting personal or financial details. Here’s how you can spot and respond to these scams:

Suspicious QR Codes

While HMRC might use QR codes in official letters, they only direct users to the gov.uk website. They never lead to pages requesting personal information.

Text Messages

Any text message from “HMRC” demanding personal or financial information should immediately raise a red flag. HMRC sends texts but never asks for sensitive details via this medium.

Deceptive Emails

Scammers are adept at creating fake email addresses that seem legitimate. Never click on links, download attachments, or reveal any sensitive information. If there’s any doubt, verify the email’s legitimacy through official channels.

Threatening Phone Calls

Be wary of automated calls claiming legal actions or lawsuits from HMRC; these are scams. Hang up immediately and report the call.

If you suspect you’ve been targeted, contact HMRC directly using official contact details from the government website. It’s also crucial to report any scam to help prevent future frauds.

Staying informed and cautious is the best defence against these financial predators. In these challenging times, safeguarding personal information is more crucial than ever. Remember, when in doubt, always check directly with HMRC.