If you can't pay your self-assessment bill to HMRC by January the 31st you should follow our advice and get...
How to avoid being an HMRC Scam victim
Money is a common a cause of worry and there will always be those who seek to profit by playing on these fears. HMRC Scams are nothing new and many of us are wise to them, but for those already worrying about insolvency, or expecting contact from HMRC, it’s far easier to be taken in.
With self assessment and financial end of year behind us, many higher earners, the self employed and business owners alike have tax on their mind at this time of year, something that’s often exploited by the steep increase in HMRC scams seen from January to April.
Those individuals behind HMRC scams are always looking for opportunities and ways to make their scams more believable and are often quite sophisticated in their tactics. Following are some guidelines to help you spot a scam and prevent yourself from losing out by being taken in by one.
What Sort Of HMRC Scams Should I Be Aware of?
In many cases and however they make contact, the scammers who contact you will do their absolute best to convince you that they are the real HMRC. The idea of being contacted by ‘the taxman’ is often enough to put people on the backfoot and from there, if the scammer is convincing enough, they can get their target to divulge all kinds of sensitive data, from personal information, to bank account details.
- Email Scams – By far the most common and for the scammer, the most cost effective. It takes no more effort to send a million emails as it does to send one, so for the sender, it’s a numbers game. Most will realise what they’ve sent is a scam, but even if a 10th of a percent fall for it, out of a million that’s still 1,000 who’ve been taken in, so well worth their effort. Bear in mind that it’s possible to make an email ‘appear’ to be from another address. Also be aware that attachments may not be what they appear to be and malicious software can be hidden in attachments. Links within emails can also be misleading. A genuine looking web address may not take you to where it shows. For example, hover your mouse pointer over a link without clicking and some browsers will show the address you’d be taken to without you having to go there.
- Telephone Scams – Business telephone numbers are often targeted by scammers calling or texting claiming to be from HMRC. They might tempt you with the prospect of rebate, ask for personal/bank information to ‘confirm your identity’ or, even more disturbingly threaten you with fines, court or arrest if you don’t pay ‘what you owe’ immediately. There have been reports of threatening voicemails and automated calls being used as well.
- Postal Scams – For those involved in HMRC Scams, sending a letter is far more expensive than an email, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not sent out. A brown envelope a crown logo and a menacing tone can have a strong effect, particularly on those who don’t use email too often. Frequently the elderly and the vulnerable are targeted.
Is it an HMRC Scam? – Telltale Signs
HMRC Scams, indeed, scams of all kinds can sometimes be almost laughably unconvincing, but there’s no denying the increased sophistication being used in some of them.
- Spelling and Grammar – Many of the scams you’ll commonly see have simple errors in the way they’re written. If it looks like it could have done with a proof-reader, it’s almost certainly not genuine.
- Generic Greeting – Or even no greeting. If HMRC are writing to you, they’ll use your name rather than ‘Dear Sir/Madam/Taxpayer’ etc.
- Incorrect Information – We’ve all got a UTR number, but do you know yours? Sometimes scammers will use a random UTR number to give a letter or email a more official look, but bank on people not checking that the number written is correct. Scrutinise anything you’re sent for similar inaccuracies like this.
- Unreasonable urgency – If you receive an unexpected ‘pay now’ letter out of the blue, a final demand when there have been no previous demands, or any kind of threat of action when it’s the first you’ve heard of it, be very sceptical.
- Odd Looking Web/Email Addresses – If you’ve clicked through a link and are being asked to enter information on a form that looks genuine, look at the address at the top of the screen. If it doesn’t look like an official government URL, it probably isn’t. Don’t use it.
- Generic, Premium or foreign phone numbers – If you receive a call from a non-uk number or a geographic number rather than an 0300 number, chances are that it’s not genuine. Low quality lines as well as obvious call centre background noise can also be a giveaway. Any communication that asks you to call a number, could well be an invitation to call a super premium phoneline which allows the scammer to extract money from you via your phone bill.
Less Obvious HMRC Scams
Be aware how convincing some of the ‘better’ HMRC scams can be however. Business owners should already be aware that some of their personal information is now freely available via Companies House and with most of us having a digital footprint, it’s often possible, with a little light research to build up enough of a picture of an individual to appear to know the kinds of things HMRC would know about them.
So with this in mind, just because a caller or email sender knows a little about you, it doesn’t mean that they’re genuine.
Also consider that the caller id display on your phone can be manipulated to show any number a more sophisticated scammer chooses, so don’t take an 0300 number at face value if you’re not expecting the call.
When In Doubt about HMRC Scams, Call HMRC
However you are contacted by someone claiming to be from HMRC, it pays to be a little cautious. Usually the best thing you can do is look up HMRC’s contact details yourself and ask them direct rather than engaging with a caller, or responding to an email/letter.
If you’re called by a genuine HMRC staff member, they’ll understand you wanting to take precautions and will certainly not threaten you. If you do hang up and call an HMRC number to verify, use a different phone if you can. It’s an age old tactic to let someone hang up, but stay on the line, so when they dial out (to the genuine number), the line is still open and the scammer can just carry on the scam by pretending to answer.
If, after doing your due diligence, it turns out the HMRC Call is genuine and you find yourself in a situation where you cannot afford to pay he tax you owe, Call Lines Henry for a free consultation and let us discuss your options.
Speak to us, We can help.