Whilst the digital era has already witnessed a wide variety of scams, the outbreak of Coronavirus has led to a sharp increase in the number of ways individuals are being contacted by fraudsters who represent themselves as HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) officials. Below we set out a range of examples of the types of scam in circulation, with advice on how to recognise them and avoid being taken in.
Only 24 hours after the launch of the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) portal on 20 April there had already been significant activity by cybercriminals, specifically in relation to the scheme. So far, the attempts to cash in on the CJRS have been by way of email, with a focus on obtaining the bank details of the recipient by suggesting that a response is required to let HMRC know into which account the grant should be paid.
Other Coronavirus-related scams include:
- Emails telling taxpayers they can claim tax refunds to help protect themselves from the Coronavirus outbreak
- Text messages telling taxpayers they can claim a goodwill payment from HMRC
- Text messages imposing a fine for leaving the house more than once.
Neither HMRC specifically, nor the Government more widely, communicates with individuals either by email or by SMS, unless you have signed up to the relevant protocol with them. Certainly, payments that can be claimed by taxpayers or fines that can be imposed are not dealt with in this way. However, fraudsters may change the ‘display name’ on their email address to make it appear genuine.
Tax refund and rebate scams
Although these scams have been around much longer, it is worth a reminder to be wary and to reiterate that HMRC does not use these forms of communication to notify taxpayers of refunds. These scams could be in the form of:
- emails which state that you are eligible for a refund and ask you to click on a link or visit a particular website in order to make your claim
- text messages claiming to be from HMRC offering you a tax refund if you provide personal or financial details
- WhatsApp messages or social media messages.
How to handle these scam messages
If you receive one of these messages:
- Do not reply to these emails, texts, WhatsApp or social media messages
- Do not call the phone number listed in an email or text
- Do not click on any links or open any attachments in emails
- Do not provide any personal or financial details
- If in doubt about whether an email or text is genuine, click on/hover over the ‘display name’ email address from which you have received the email. This will show you the full details of the sender and will make it clear whether the email is from a genuine Government or HMRC source
- If you are still unsure, forward it to HMRC and then delete it. If you are in doubt about the source of one of these messages, forward it to HMRC. You can do this via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via text at 60599 (network charges apply).
- In addition, the National Cyber Security Centre has recently launched a reporting service urging the public to forward any questionable emails to email@example.com. The NCSC’s automated scanning system then checks them, and immediately shuts down and removes criminal sites.
Phone calls threatening legal action
Taxpayers have also received calls stating that they owe significant amounts of tax and that unless they press 1 to speak to a caseworker and make a payment immediately, legal action will be taken against them. HMRC do not make such calls.
If you receive such a call, disconnect immediately and report it to HMRC at firstname.lastname@example.org including details of the date of the call, the phone number used and the call content.
Finally, be aware that if you receive an offer from a company to apply to HMRC for a tax rebate on your behalf, they are not connected with HMRC in any way. They will normally charge a fee which could be sizeable.
Always read the disclaimers and small print before using this kind of service.
Would you like to know more?
The Government is continuing to monitor scams and provides regularly updated information here.
Anyone who believes they are entitled to support, but is unclear how to proceed, should ensure that they work with a reputable agent that is known to them. If you would like to discuss this, or have other queries about how you can make the right decisions for the future of your business and your income, please get in touch with your usual Blick Rothenberg contact or one of the contacts to the right.
You can also visit our Coronavirus – Practical Guidance for businesses today Hub for our latest insights and sign up here to receive important Practical Guidance updates delivered directly to your inbox.