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HMRC tax scams on the rise

The number of scam emails from those impersonating tax officials has reportedly “skyrocketed” since the beginning of the year, according to the Financial Times

The recent surge in tax scams has reportedly emerged from criminals seeking to “exploit financial fears over the coronavirus outbreak”, the paper has alleged. 

It comes as a recent freedom of information (FOI) request revealed that the number of phishing emails reported to HMRC reached 42,575 in March, marking a 74% rise since January, when 24,446 phishing emails were reported. 

According to the paper, the FOI request also revealed that Covid-19 was “explicitly referred to” in the phishing emails reported in March, the month that the UK went into lockdown. 

The pandemic was not mentioned in any reported phishing scams reported in January or February, however. 

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Phishing emails are those sent by criminals posing as a “trustworthy” authority, in efforts to convince people to hand over personal information such as email logins, passwords and banking details. 

Mike Hodges, head of private wealth at Saffery Champness, whose firm made the FOI request, told the paper: “Many individuals who otherwise may not interact with the Revenue regularly, or do so through a tax adviser, may now have very pressing reasons to correspond with HMRC directly, as a result of applying for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, or other government Covid relief programmes. 

“Consequently, fraudsters are looking to camouflage themselves amid the disruption by deploying phishing emails, bogus texts and automated calls to take advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.” 

HMRC confirmed that it will never email, text or message taxpayers on social media to offer rebates or refunds, and has asked taxpayers to forward any suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk.

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