As the January 31 deadline for Self Assessment tax returns approaches, the UK's tax body, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), is sounding an alarm about a growing wave of scams targeting Self Assessment customers. This surge in fraudulent activity has seen fraudsters impersonating HMRC staff through various means, from emails to text messages and phone calls.
In this article, we'll delve into the rising threat of self-assessment scams and phishing, highlighting the tactics used by scammers and offering tips to protect yourself from falling victim to these schemes. We'll also explore a notable case of an Indonesian scammer who targeted HMRC.
The Escalation of Self Assessment Scams
In recent years, there has been a concerning escalation in Self Assessment scams. With approximately 12 million people expected to submit their Self Assessment tax returns for the 2022/2023 tax year by the January 31, 2024, deadline, fraudsters are exploiting this opportunity to impersonate HMRC and deceive taxpayers.
The scams take various forms, including fake rebate offers and threats of immediate arrest for alleged tax evasion. These scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated and convincing, often closely mimicking legitimate HMRC communications.
Scammers have become adept at employing tactics that closely resemble genuine HMRC communications. They employ a range of methods, including sending fake text messages, emails, phone calls, and even WhatsApp messages.
The aim is to entice or intimidate the recipient into providing personal details, transferring money, or visiting malicious websites. Many of these phishing attempts use official logos and language, making it challenging for individuals to distinguish between real and fraudulent communications.
Myrtle Lloyd, HMRC's Director General for Customer Services, emphasises the need for vigilance and offers valuable advice: "Unexpected contacts like these should set alarm bells ringing, so take your time and check HMRC scams advice on GOV.UK."
The Indonesian Scammer and International Cooperation
In a notable case, an Indonesian scammer was successfully captured after an investigation by HMRC's cybercrime team, working in collaboration with the Indonesian National Police (INP), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
This 36-year-old individual, whose name remains undisclosed, was tracked down for selling phishing kits to cybercriminals targeting UK taxpayers.
These phishing kits contain software tools like readymade templates and scripts that scammers use to create fake websites that closely mimic legitimate organisations, including HMRC.
Fraudsters tend to target individuals they believe are likely to interact with HMRC over tax matters.
New Self Assessment customers may be particularly vulnerable, as they are less familiar with legitimate HMRC communications and may fall for phishing links or reveal personal information to cybercriminals.
The statistics reveal a concerning trend; between August 2021 and August 2022, HMRC's Customer Protection Team received a total of 181,296 referrals of suspicious contact.
Furthermore, HMRC responded to more than 55,000 phone scams in the last year, a stark contrast to the 425 reports it received in April 2020.
HMRC's Proactive Response to Self Assessment Scams
In response to this surge in scams, HMRC has taken action against criminals. The tax body has been collaborating with telecom providers and Ofcom to take down 48 phone numbers used in HMRC-related phone scams.
Additionally, they reported over 10,500 malicious websites for takedown, aiming to protect the public from fraudulent activities.
HMRC provides essential guidance to protect both new and existing Self Assessment customers from scams:
- Be wary of communications through WhatsApp, as HMRC does not use this platform.
- Be cautious if you receive a QR code from HMRC or if you're asked to use gift or payment vouchers.
- HMRC will never threaten arrest or leave voicemails regarding legal action. Treat such messages as red flags.
To learn more about Self Assessment Tax Return, visit our “Understanding Self-Assessment Tax: FAQs for Landlords in the UK” article.
Reporting Suspicious Activity
HMRC encourages all customers to report any suspicious activity. Reporting such activity is crucial in aiding the authorities' efforts to combat scammers.
You can report suspicious texts to 60599, forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org, and report tax scam phone calls on GOV.UK. If you've been a victim, report it to Action Fraud.
By staying informed about the tactics used by scammers and following HMRC's advice, you can better protect yourself from falling prey to Self Assessment scams and phishing attempts.
Remember that legitimate tax authorities will not contact you via messaging apps, request QR codes, or threaten you with arrest, and be cautious of unsolicited communications related to your tax affairs.
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