HMRC is warning taxpayers to be aware of yet another round of phishing emails and text messages – this time involving fake tax rebates. Seemingly triggered by the end of the 2017/18 tax year, criminals are sending emails or text messages claiming that the recipient is owed a tax refund – often a sizable one. The message will usually contain a link to a virtual clone of HMRC’s site where they will be asked to enter bank account or payment card details to receive payment. These details will then be used to drain the taxpayer’s account.

According to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mel Stride MP, whose brief includes overseeing the Revenue, the surge in rebate related fraud is seasonal: “We know that criminals will try and use events like the end of the financial year, the self-assessment deadline, and the issuing of tax refunds to target the public and attempt to get them to reveal their personal data. It is important to be alert to the danger,” he said, adding that HMRC will inform taxpayers of overpayments by post.

Preying on the anticipation of getting hard-earned money back from the tax man is the mirror image of a scam frequently seen shortly after tax payment thresholds, when scammers will impersonate HMRC debt collection agents, demanding immediate payment of a large debt. In these cases payment is sometimes demanded in a form other than money – frequently vouchers for online stores such as iTunes or Amazon. In other cases the victim is prompted to call a number immediately (often under threat of prosecution) and then browbeaten into providing bank details over the phone.

Top tips to protect yourself and your business include:

  • Stop and think – Is it likely that you owe or are owed money? When you or your accountant completed your Self Assessment or company tax return was there a rebate due? In most cases for a contractor this will not be the case.
  • Take advice – If you receive a genuine rebate or demand, your accountant will be able to tell you what it is for. Alternatively call HMRC using a number you google not the one in the email or text, and ask if the message is real.
  • Remember that telephone numbers can easily be faked. You should never trust the number you see on your telephone display, even if it looks like an official HMRC number.
  • If you receive a suspicious cold call, end it immediately. Call HMRC directly to check if it was a genuine call – you can confirm the official call centre numbers on GOV.UK.
  • You should report these incidents on the Action Fraud website, or you can call them on 0300 123 2040 (please note this number will be charged at your normal network rate). They are open Monday to Friday 09:00 – 18:00. You can also report the full details of the scam to HMRC (date, time, phone number used and content of the call) using email [email protected]

HMRC publishes examples of known scams on their website.

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