HMRC have identified over 450 COVID-19 financial support scams in the past year, a rise of roughly 50% from the previous year, showing that the pandemic has provided an opportunity for fraudsters. In addition, scams from criminals purporting to be from the police or major banks have also seen a sharp rise.
Scammers have become more adept at making emails or phone calls seem more legitimate using the correct logos and providing seemingly genuine phone numbers to call. This makes victims more susceptible as they are more likely to comply with the instructions – clicking on links or transferring money – believing they are from an institution they recognise and trust.
Three common scams to watch out for
· COVID-19 financial support
Over the course of the pandemic, the government have provided financial support in the form of the furlough scheme, grants and loans and fraudsters have seen this as an opportunity to cheat people knowing that it is a time of financial hardship.
There have been thousands of instances where people have received texts purporting to be from HMRC stating that they are eligible for a tax refund and to click on a link where they are asked for their NI number, UTR number and personal details. Similarly, emails have been reported stating that the recipient is eligible for financial help and to submit their bank details to receive a grant.
· HMRC phone scams
In July 2021, there were over 12,000 phone scams with nearly half a million over the course of a year. The most common scams rely on inducing fear and causing people to act without thinking. For example, an automated message warning victims that they have not paid enough tax and that there is a warrant out for their arrest. Another common tactic is number spoofing where a scam caller appears to be phoning from a genuine HMRC phone number offering tax rebates.
· Malicious web pages
HMRC reported over 13,000 malicious web pages over the last year with instructions for them to be taken down. Malicious web pages are clones or copies of HMRC’s website that might appear on searching for HMRC or COVID-19 financial support. Always look out for paid ads that might appear at the top of the page and double check the web address to ensure you are taken to the legitimate page.
· HMRC will never phone, text or email you asking for money or personal details such as your NI or UTR numbers
· Don’t click on any links in an email or text or phone a given number no matter how urgent the correspondence seems – HMRC will never ask you to click on a link to receive a tax rebate
· Hang up as quickly as possible if you receive a possible bogus call and do not give out any personal information over the phone
· Report any possible fraudulent correspondence to HMRC here
· Check the government website here for information on legitimate COVID-19 financial support