HMRC warns university students over tax scams

As students return to university at the start of the new academic year, HMRC is highlighting that they could be targeted by a fresh wave of tax scams

With universities taking a blended approach to online and face-to-face tuition this year, and an increase in remote working due to the pandemic, students could be left particularly exposed to the work of fraudsters, the tax authority warns.

Freshers might also be more vulnerable to these types of scams due to their limited experience of the tax system.

HMRC has written to universities, through Universities UK, asking them to help ensure their students know how to spot a scam.

In August this year HMRC received reports from the public of more than 74,800 scam emails, text messages and phone calls. Nearly 41,300 of these specifically offered bogus tax rebates.

Thousands of these scams were targeted at students and the criminals involved appear to have obtained their personal university email addresses by unlawful means. These scams often offer fake tax refunds or help with claiming Covid-related financial support.

Phishing email messages can also provide a gateway for criminals. Students who provide personal details in response can end up inadvertently giving access to important accounts, like email or online banking, leaving scammers free to commit fraud and steal their money.

Criminals also use phone scams to threaten taxpayers into handing over cash. Some 651,600 scams have been referred to HMRC since August last year. Of those, more than 215,660 were voice or telephone scams, known as vishing.

Jesse Norman, financial secretary to the Treasury, said: ‘Cyber criminals use every method they can to steal money and personal data from students.

‘We are concerned that remote working because of Covid-19 could lead to more tax scams targeting a new and potentially vulnerable university intake.

‘HMRC are doing everything they can to clamp down on cyber fraud, but students also need to be vigilant. We would urge university principals to take a lead in helping to protect their students from these cyber criminals by raising awareness of what to look out for.’

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: ‘The message to students, at what is a particularly stressful time, is to remain vigilant and question anything that seems unusual. Any student who fears their account may have been misused is encouraged to speak to either university support services, their bank, or to the police via Action Fraud.’

Useful links:

HMRC’s letter to Vice Chancellors

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