As the end of December 2023 approaches, the urgency surrounding the imminent January deadline for tax returns heightens. The rising wave of scams targeting taxpayers is not just a concern; it’s a red alert. With approximately 12 million individuals expected to submit a self-assessment tax return for the 2022 to 2023 tax year by 31 January 2024, the stakes are high.
Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself.
The alarming rise of tax scams
Between September 2022 and September 2023, HMRC reported more than 130,000 tax scams, with a staggering 58,000 attempting to deceive taxpayers with fake tax rebates. These scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated, mimicking government communications through emails, phone calls, and texts.
Who’s at risk?
Scammers target self-assessment customers, especially those who may be unfamiliar with the process. Newcomers to self-assessment may be particularly vulnerable, risking their personal and financial information by clicking on fraudulent links or divulging sensitive details.
HMRC’s vigilant stance
HMRC received 60,000 phone scam reports in the 12 months leading up to September 2023 and took down 25,000 malicious web pages. Since 2017, HMRC has recovered over 183 websites hosting fraudulent services, saving the public millions.
Your role in securing your information
- Beware of phishing
Four in ten UK adults experienced a scam attempt in the last year, with phishing being the most common method. Emails, texts, or voicemails claiming to be from HMRC, or related entities should be treated with caution.
- Keep your details confidential
- The financial toll
The repercussions of falling victim to scams can be severe. Research from Canada Life reveals that 26% of scam victims were unable to recover their stolen funds, with an average loss of £4,715 per individual. The top scam types included fraudulent tax or debt collection requests and advance fee scams.
- Take action: report and speak up!
If you encounter a scam attempt or become a victim, don’t remain silent. Reporting scams is crucial in combating these criminal activities. As Julia Peake, tax, and estate planning specialist at Canada Life, emphasises, “If you experience a scam attempt, or if you fall victim to one, the best thing you can do is to speak up and report it.”
Ten tips to protect yourself from the scammers
- Be suspicious
Scammers are clever and are always coming up with new ways to get around your defences so they can access your personal information or bank details. It’ not just emails and phone calls, so always be on the lookout for anything unusual.
Some outside companies might help you get tax refunds. They’re not connected to HMRC so be careful and read their terms closely.
- Check published examples of scams
HMRC lists known scams on their website. Check there to see if the message you got is a scam or real.
- Don’t click on any links or attachments
Avoid immediately clicking on links in emails or text messages or opening any email attachments claiming to be from HMRC, as they pose a significant risk.
Examine the link preview prior to clicking to determine if it appears legitimate. On a computer, hover your cursor over the link to detect any suspicious elements in the URL. Consider manually searching for the website rather than relying solely on the provided link to ensure authenticity.
- Don’t reply directly using the given contact details
If you get a text, email, or call supposedly from HMRC, don’t respond using the contact details included in the message. Instead, use the telephone number or email address listed on HMRC’s official website.
- Don’t share your card or bank details
Avoid providing your bank details or putting your debit or credit card details into any system, as this could enable scammers to withdraw funds from your account. While receiving a tax rebate is a good thing, be cautious and don’t immediately accept one if it comes unexpectedly.
- Don’t give way to pressure
If someone pushes you to make a decision you’re uncertain about, take a moment to reflect on their request. Scammers often employ urgency and deadlines to hurry you into making impulsive choices.
- Were you expecting to be contacted?
- Ask your accountant
If you’re unfamiliar with self-assessment and unsure about what to expect, consult a trusted advisor. They can help you verify the authenticity of any correspondence you receive.
- Complete your tax return early
Submit your self-assessment tax return well in advance. Doing so allows you to understand your position without feeling rushed. Additionally, you’ll have ample time to review any correspondence and verify its authenticity.
- If you’ve encountered a phishing attempt, report it!
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Text: 60599
- Call: Action Fraud at 0300 123 2040
- Report any suspected online fraud through Action Fraud’s online portal
As the January deadline looms, staying vigilant and informed is your best defence against tax scams. Remember, HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to request personal or financial information. Be wary, be cautious, and protect yourself from falling prey to these malicious schemes. Your financial security depends on it.