How to spot an HMRC scam

How to spot an HMRC scam

It’s bad enough getting scam calls about fake credit card purchases, but scammers are now even claiming they are from Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC). 

Here’s a guide to the giveaway signs that a call or message isn’t genuine, and what action you should take.

The core purpose of an HMRC scam call is to persuade you to make a payment in order to settle a tax liability and avoid a large fine, or even arrest. Jim Harra, Chief Executive and First Permanent Secretary of HMRC, has recently commented on this matter, stating: “We are aware of recent increases in scam phone calls, emails and texts. If someone contacts you claiming to be from HMRC saying that you owe tax and face arrest, are due a tax refund, that your National Insurance number has been compromised, or asking you to transfer money, or for bank or other personal details, it might be a scam.”

Giveaway signs

Don’t panic. There are several telltale signs which will give the scammer away. HMRC have made it very clear that:

  1. They will never send notification by email regarding tax rebates or refunds.
  2. They will never ask for personal or financial information if they make contact by text message.
  3. They will never make any contact via WhatsApp.
  4. You should not reply to or open links on any text which refers to a ‘Covid-19 refund’.
  5. If they are genuinely making contact, HMRC will issue computer-generated demands through the post in the first instance to advise of the debt owed. Any out-of-the-blue contact is unlikely to be genuine.
  6. In the case of suspected tax fraud, they will issue a letter explaining that they have begun an investigation under Code of Practice 8 or 9 (if this is being pursued using civil investigation powers); or knock at your door (if they decide to utilise their criminal investigation powers).

Advice from HMRC

HMRC have also offered some advice to anyone who receives a scam call, text or email. They recommend taking the following actions:

  1. Forward any suspicious text messages to HMRC’s phishing team on 60599.
  2. Take a screenshot of any messages received via WhatsApp and send them via email to
  3. Forward any suspicious emails to the same email address detailed above.
  4. Send an email to HMRC detailing the time, date, and telephone number of any suspicious phone calls.

How HMRC are responding

Due to the increase in fraudulent repayment claims being made, HMRC have begun to issue letters asking individuals to verify repayment claims made through their income tax self-assessment returns. If HMRC identify a repayment claim that gives them some concern, they will contact individuals in two stages in order to verify firstly their identity, and then to answer some questions about the claim they have made. These letters are genuine and are known as SURF1 and SURF2 letters. The SURF1 letter advises people that HMRC believe that their unique taxpayer reference (UTR) may have been used to make a fraudulent repayment claim. HMRC will ask you to contact them by telephone.

Following that phone call, HMRC will issue a SURF2 letter which asks the individual to provide evidence of their identity and address by providing copies of documents from two specific lists. They will also ask that a repayment questionnaire be completed and returned with an R38 form to claim the refund. Currently, these documents can only be returned to HMRC by post.