Taxpayers urged to take caution, with fraudsters likely to try “impersonating HMRC”
HMRC has issued a warning to the UK’s army of self-employed workers, urging them to “be on the lookout” for tax scams, following thousands of reports of attempted fraud from taxpayers in the last 12 months.
With the Self Assessment deadline of 31st January 2024 approaching, the alert is a timely reminder to take caution against suspected scams.
The announcement came last week (17th October), and follows the reporting of 130,000 tax scams in the 12 months from September 2022 to September 2023; more than ten thousand per month. Of the reported schemes, scams related to tax relief accounted for just under half (44.6%) of the total.
Schemes can take “different approaches”. Some may appear as reminders to update tax details, while others threaten arrest for tax evasion.
With as many as 12m people expected to complete the Self Assessment, scam activity is likely to increase in the coming months.
Economic conditions drive increase in fraud
According to a 2009 report from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) – a global association with a UK presence – economic downturns are directly correlated with increased incidences of fraud.
As such, the tax authority’s Director General for Customer Services, Myrtle Lloyd, wants “customers to be wary of approaches by fraudsters in the run-up to the Self Assessment deadline”.
“Criminals are great pretenders who try and dupe people by sending emails, phone calls and texts which mimic government messages to make them appear authentic”, she said.
“Unexpected contacts like these should set alarm bells ringing – so take your time and check HMRC scams advice”, Lloyd added. Taxpayers can find out how to identify scams by viewing guidance on gov.uk.
Of the 130,000 schemes identified over the 12-month period (September ‘22 to September ‘23), HMRC claims to have “responded to 60,000 reports of phone scams” and had 25,000 “malicious web pages” taken offline.
Despite this, there will be concerns about news reports – also published last week – that suggest HMRC’s “old and ageing IT systems” are vulnerable to cyberattacks and further data breaches. Such an event could lead to many more taxpayer details being compromised, and potentially available to scammers.
In the last few years, HMRC has reported a number of data breaches to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). In 2020-2021, the tax office reported 17 data breaches to the ICO. This rose to 22 incidents between 2021-2022. It is unclear how many taxpayers’ details were affected by these incidents.
Reporting tax-related scams to HMRC
If you believe you have received tax-related scam communications – whether by phone, email or text – you can report it to HMRC.
First, find out how to identify tax scam communications; depending on what you’ve received, you should forward the communications to HMRC using the following details: