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The Different Tax Scams and How to Avoid Them
Thousands of people every year fall victim to tax scams.

A majority of them feature scammers impersonating HMRC in order to get your personal information and/or bank details.

These scams are happening all the time, but the most common time is at the end of the financial year and when HMRC are processing genuine tax refunds.

The information below outlines some of the most common tax scams you need to be able to identify.

Tax Rebate Phishing and Smishing

Every year, thousands upon thousands of tax related phishing emails and text messages are sent out by criminals to unsuspecting victims.

These emails and messages claim that you have paid too much tax over the past year and you’re eligible for a refund. They will push you to click on the link provided in the message which will take you to a website where you will be asked to enter your personal and bank details in order to have your refund processed. However, this website has actually been designed to capture the information you enter which can later be accessed and stolen by the fraudster controlling the malicious site.

Spot the Signs:

The first and most important thing to remember is that HMRC will never contact you via email, text message or over the phone to discuss tax rebates. They will only ever contact you via post.

However, these phishing emails are always being developed by fraudsters to look more slick and sophisticated, therefore, more convincing. Despite this, there are still certain things that you can look out for which will tell you that it’s a scam.

  • Sender’s Email Address: Fraudsters can easily spoof the display name so the email or text message looks like they have come from a legitimate source. It is important to check the sender’s email address very carefully for any abnormalities.

  • Greeting: Fraudsters often send out thousands of phishing emails in one go, so even though they have your email address, they may not have your name. It’s very unlikely that they will spend the time personally addressing every email, so, they usually begin the email with a generalised greeting like ‘Dear (your email address)’ or ‘To our customer’.

  • Request for Personal Information: HMRC have stated that they will never send their customers emails asking for any form of personal information. If this is required, it will be either done over the phone or via post. HMRC will also never use emails to:

    - Offer you a repayment of any kind
    - Notify you of a tax rebate/refund

  • Urgent Language: If the message in the email or text appears very demanding and aggressive, urging you to click on the link as soon as possible, it is a common sign of a fraudster. They often want action as soon as possible so they use phrases such as ‘urgent action required’ and ‘you only have 3 days to respond’. If this was a real tax refund, it wouldn’t be that urgent.

Read our article on HMRC tax rebate phishing scams for more in-depth information on this type of scam.


Bogus HMRC Websites

Within one year (June 2017 – June 2018), HMRC requested for over 20,000 malicious websites to be taken down.

Some of these websites are designed to trick people into handing over their personal and bank details (the same websites used in phishing emails and text messages). But, others direct you to call a premium rate number which could cost you up to £3.60 per minute.

The number will take you through to HMRC eventually, but will charge you a huge amount of money which lands directly in the scammer’s pocket.

Spot the Signs:

Although these fake websites can look very realistic and genuine, there are still a couple of things that you can look for to determine whether it is real or fake.

  • URL:  This is the real HMRC website - If the URL of the website you are on is any different from this, it’s fake.

  • ‘Registered Payment Account’: As the fraudster wants to steal your bank details, they will ask you to enter your ‘registered payment account’ with HMRC, requiring you to enter your card number and expiration date. HMRC would never ask you to fill in this information, and if they did, it would be the account number and sort code, not the card number.


‘You Owe Tax’ Scam

At the opposite end to tax rebate scams, fraudsters have been contacting victims via email, text message and phone calls saying they owe tax and must pay up immediately.

This scam takes a much more threatening approach with scammers saying you will be taken to court or have bailiffs sent to you if you don’t pay your tax bill.

Spot the Signs:

If you owe tax, HMRC will only ever contact you by sending a P800 via post. This will state how much you owe and how it can be paid.

  • Method of Contact:  As stated above, HMRC will only ever contact you via post. So, if you receive an email, text message, social media message or phone call, it is a scammer.

  • Method of Payment:  HMRC will usually collect the tax you owe in instalments over the next year. Alternatives are paying online or sending a cheque via post – these are the only methods of payments available for genuine payments to HMRC.  Fraudsters may ask you to pay via bank transfer, PayPal or sometimes even iTunes vouchers.

  • Threatening Language:  Fraudsters will urge you to pay the bill quickly, using demanding language and threatening to take you to court or have bailiffs sent round if you don’t pay the bill promptly. HMRC would never do this, as stated above, they will normally take the money you owe in instalments instead of all in one go, unless you choose to pay that way.


What to do if you receive an HMRC Phishing Email, Text or Phone Call

If you receive a phishing email or text related to HMRC, you should forward it (without clicking on any of the links) to and then delete it. If you have received a phone call, you can send a full description of the scam (Including the date of call, phone number used and what the scammer said) to the same email address. This will help to assist with HMRC’s investigations into fraud.

Alternatively, you can report the email to Action Fraud UK.


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