HMRC issues fraud warning after taking down 10,000 websites in a year
Scammers will aim to take advantage during a time of year when many are completing tax returns, department warns
HM Revenue and Customs has warned citizens completing their annual tax return to be on the lookout for online and telephone scams.
The department revealed that, in the 12 months to August 2022, it has been alerted to 181,296 instances of a member of the public receiving a suspicious communication purporting to be from HMRC.
The tax agency said that it responded to 55,386 suspected phone scams during the year, and identified 10,565 “malicious websites” – all of which were reported to authorities to be shut down. Nearly 50 phone numbers that had been used to perpetrate HMRC-related fraud were also taken out of service.
As the deadline approaches for individuals filing self-assessment tax returns for 2021/22 – which must be submitted online by 31 January, or in paper form by the end of this month – HMRC has warned that fraudsters will seek to take advantage of the busy period.
“Fraudsters target customers when they know they are more likely to be in contact with HMRC, which is why self-assessment customers should be extra vigilant to this activity,” the department said. “There is a risk they could be taken in by scam texts, emails or calls either offering a ‘refund’ or demanding unpaid tax, thinking that they are genuine HMRC communications referring to their self-assessment return. Some customers who have not done a self-assessment return previously might be tricked into clicking on links in these emails or texts and revealing personal or financial information to criminals.”
Many scammers will claim that the target of the fraud is eligible for a rebate payment. Others will allege tax evasion and threaten people with arrest – something which HMRC said a genuine government representative would never do.
Anyone receiving a suspicious contact is advised not to be rushed or pressured into any action, and to visit a dedicated advice page on GOV.UK.
As well as illegal fraud, the department’s Customer Protection Team also has a remit to stamp out websites charging people for services that can be accessed for free – such as connecting callers to HMRC tax helplines.
“To protect the public, HMRC formally disputes and takes ownership of HMRC-branded internet domain or website names,” the department said. “Since 2017, the department has recovered more than 183 websites hosting low-value services such as call-connection sites, saving the public millions of pounds.”
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