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Protecting older people from tax scams

Protecting the vulnerable against tax scammers

Today’s scammers try to take on any persona possible to relieve the vulnerable of the contents of the bank accounts, or even their savings and investments.

A particular favourite at the moment seems to be fake messages from the tax office, demanding payments or even offering to help with refunds from HMRC.

What sort of scamming is taking place?

Phone calls

Perhaps the most dangerous of all for a generation that might not use computers or mobile phones, but will always have a landline. These calls take the recipient by surprise, giving the scammer a better chance of getting the information they want – usually bank details. It’s important to emphasise to everyone that HMRC won’t ever contact people directly this way about refunds, so they should never give out their information like this.

Texts

Fake texts are a menace for those with mobile phones. Again, these scams are very common and focus on either a bill to pay to HMRC or a refund to claim. Some of these can be really scary, with threats that the recipient is about to be arrested if they don’t pay up on the spot. The text looks believable, because the sender’s address has been “spoofed” to look like it’s from HMRC. There’ll probably be a link to tap to a realistic-looking website.

Phishing

The victim receives an email that claims to be from HMRC, and looks pretty official. It might even seem to be from a real HMRC address. The victim simply needs to fill in their bank details to sort out a payment or refund.

Fake websites

When it comes to tax issues, copycat HMRC sites can be a real danger, even for people who are no longer working. It can be tricky to tell a real website from a copycat. You can pick out some of the scammer sites by checking the full web address given. Any official HMRC address, for example, should end in “.gov.uk”. Looking for the secure “https://” at the beginning of the address can help as well though it’s not a total guarantee of protection.

Top advice

Do not give out personal or financial details over the phone, by text or online, even if they appear to be genuine. HMRC will never ask anyone to do this.

Fixing the damage

If a scam does appear to have taken place, there are things to do as soon as possible:

  • Contact the bank concerned. Stop any direct debits and any PINs that have been handed over.
  • Check bank statements, and let the provider know straightaway about any usual payments. Cards can be cancelled immediately and there’s a good chance of reimbursement

Reporting a scam

Every scam that’s reported can help investigators create intelligence about scammers and build a case against them. It may also be advised by the victim’s financial provider.

  • Forward scam HMRC texts to 60599 to report them.
  • Forward phishing emails to [email protected]. And then delete them.
  • Most types of financial scam from unauthorised firms can easily be reported online at https://www.fca.org.uk/consumers/report-scam-unauthorised-firm.
  • Email scams can also be reported to the ISP that was used to send them. Gmail and Hotmail for instance, have simple buttons to click to report spam. Yahoo spam can be reported at [email protected].
  • Let the company or the government department that the scammer is pretending to be know as well.
  • Report on the UK’s Action Fraud site
  • Not all scams are electronic. If you’ve had some dodgy-looking post, you can forward it to Royal Mail’s fraud investigators at Freepost Scam Mail, PO Box 797, Exeter EX1 9UN. If you want to make the report by phone or email, use 0345 611 3413 or [email protected]

This article is an edited version of a guide published by tax refund specialists RIFT on staying safe against tax scams.

At the end of May 2019 UK banks starting signing up to a voluntary code to reimburse customers who have been persuaded to make bank transfers by scammers. We have the details on how banks are helping to protect the vulnerable.

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