Scammers target taxpayers with bogus demands

HMRC is warning taxpayers to be aware of fraudsters in the run up to the 31 January self assessment deadline from text messages to phone calls

Over the last year, HMRC received nearly 900,000 reports from the public about suspicious HMRC contact – phone calls, texts or emails. More than 100,000 of these were phone scams, while over 620,000 reports from the public were about bogus tax rebates.

One of the latest scams Accountancy Daily identified was a letter that was posted to a taxpayer with the HMRC logo and address for HMRC’s Bexley mail sorting centre. The letter asked for direct debit payments, stating they will collect the final payment to clear the taxpayer’s self assessment arrears.

Letter scams are most unusual with the majority of attempts of fraud coming via phishing emails, text or even phone calls. Taxpayers need to be aware of this risk and check that any contact that appears to be from HMRC is actually genuine. 

The telephone number on the letter was 0300 123 1813 which is a genuine HMRC inbound debt management number.

The phone number was tested and found to use similar protocol that HMRC runs on its real phone line. The operator asked for a unique taxpayer reference (UTR), the 10-digit HMRC code which identifies individual taxpayers.

The phone service also asked for a National Insurance (NI) number, and when dummy versions of these numbers were punched in, the scammers would refuse service until the real number was given, trying to appear like the legitimate service.

The letter was received by Rob Wright of AME Solutions, who claimed in a tweet that it was a scam, later to be denied by HMRC. Wright's tweet said: ‘Are you aware of the recent HMRC Letter scam?? There has recently been a bout of letters that look to be genuine that come from the #HMRC about direct debit payments for self assessment.’

When he was contacted to see why he thought the letter was a fraud, his spokesperson said it was ‘because we’re not stupid’ and declined to give any further comment.

Some of the most common techniques fraudsters use include phoning taxpayers offering a fake tax refund, or pretending to be HMRC by texting or emailing a link which will take taxpayers to a false page, where their bank details and money will be stolen.

Fraudsters are also known to threaten victims with arrest or imprisonment if a bogus tax bill is not paid immediately.

HMRC is operates a dedicated Customer Protection team to identify and close down scams but is advising taxpayers to recognise the signs to avoid becoming victims themselves.

Genuine organisations like HMRC and banks will never contact taxpayers asking for their PIN, password or bank details. Taxpayers should never give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in texts or emails which they are not expecting.

Affected taxpayers should forward details of suspicious calls, emails or letters claiming to be from HMRC to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk or text 60599. Fraud victims who have suffered financial loss should contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or use their online fraud reporting tool.

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