Online scams have been around ever since the dawn of emails. And they’ve increased dramatically over the COVID-19 lockdown. 

But email scams have evolved since the days of stranded Nigerian princes. Nowadays, scammers will pose as trusted businesses and government bodies, like banks and HMRC, so you need to be more careful than ever. 

In this guide, we’ll tell you how to spot and report an HMRC scam email. Specifically, we’ll be covering:

  • What is phishing?
  • What does a genuine HMRC email look like?
  • How to spot a scam email.
  • How to report a scam email to HMRC. 

What is phishing?

Phishing is the name of a scam where scammers message people, posing as reputable organisations, in order to get their private information. 

They might send an email or text message pretending to be a bank, phone company, or HMRC, and ask people for their details. Alternatively, they might provide a link to a fake website that looks legitimate, asking people to log in to their account, then record those details. 

What does a genuine HMRC email look like?

The first thing to know is that HMRC will not normally contact you unless you’ve been in contact with them. 

For example, you may have registered a new company or submitted a tax return. In these cases, it’s normal for HMRC to contact you. If you’ve received an email from HMRC and you’re not immediately sure why, then that’s a red flag. 

If they do contact you, HMRC will never ask you for personal information over phone, email, or text message. So again, if you’re contacted by HMRC and they’re asking for any personal details, that’s another big red flag. 

This is a list of genuine reasons HMRC would get in touch with you:

  • Annual tax summary
  • Employer bulletins
  • Help and support emails
  • Online VAT obligations
  • Making Tax Digital for VAT
  • Personal tax account information
  • Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS)
  • VAT

If you’re unsure about an email, phone call, or text message, you should contact HMRC through a listed contact on their website to double-check.

Annual tax summary

You might get an email from HMRC saying your annual tax summary is ready. They’ll use the subject line “Your Annual Tax Summary is ready” and won’t ask you for any personal or financial details.

Employer bulletins 

If you employ other staff and you’ve signed up for HMRC’s bulletins, you’ll get emails with the subject line “Important information for employers”.

Help and support emails  

HMRC will send guides for taxpayers. They sometimes have links to webinars or YouTube videos, They’ll never ask you for personal information. 

Making Tax Digital for VAT 

If you’ve signed up to Making Tax Digital, HMRC will send you an email within 72 hours confirming that you can send VAT returns.

Personal tax account information 

When you call HMRC about your taxes, they might direct you to sign up for a personal tax account to help you manage your taxes online. You’ll decide at the time if you want to be contacted over the phone or by email. 

Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS)

If you’ve claimed a Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) grant, HMRC might contact you with details about the fifth grant. 

They’ll never ask for you to follow a link or submit personal information.

VAT 

HMRC might email you about VAT. They could be about VAT registration, due dates, or debt reminders, but they’ll never ask for any information from you. 

How to spot a scam email.

Although different forms of scam email are popping up all the time, there are a few common ones that HMRC are aware of, so watch out for these email scams:

  • COVID-19 scams.
  • Tax refund and rebate scams.
  • Refund company scams
  • Customs duty scam

COVID-19 scams

There’s an email phishing scam telling customers they’re eligible to receive employment income support because of the pandemic. 

The email will ask you to click a hyperlink to claim an income support credit, then take you to a fake landing page. 

If you get an email like this, don’t reply or click on the link. 

Tax refund and rebate scams

You might get an email telling you you’re due a tax rebate, then supply a link to a fake website. 

It can look legitimate because scammers can use email addresses that match HMRC contact email addresses. 

Remember, HMRC will never send you an email about a tax rebate. So any email about tax refunds is a scam. 

Refund company scams

There’s a common email scam where you’ll be emailed or texted by someone pretending to be a service that applies for a tax rebate on your behalf. They’ll say you’re entitled to a tax rebate, saying they can get it for you promptly for a small fee. 

HMRC doesn’t use any service like this, so don’t reply or click any of the links in the email. 

Customs duty scams

You might get a text or email telling you there’s a package being held for you, but to get it you need to pay customs duty tax to HMRC. 

Obviously, if you haven’t ordered a package, or you’ve ordered something from within the UK, then it’s a scam. 

If you order from a business outside the UK, you may well be charged customs duty tax. But you’ll be sent a bill by the Royal Mail, not HMRC. 

How to report a scam email to HMRC

If you’re the victim of an online scam, report it to action fraud on their website, or call them on 0300 123 2040. 

If you live in Scotland, you should report it directly to the police

If you’ve received a suspicious phishing email claiming to be from HMRC, report it to their phishing team at phishing@hmrc.gov.uk. Send the details of the email you received, like the sender’s email address and the date it was sent, and use the subject line “suspicious email”.

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