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The scams to watch out for as fraudsters target last minute tax return filers

Rebecca Goodman
Written By:
Rebecca Goodman

The deadline for filing and paying self-assessment tax is fast approaching and with it comes a raft of scams to watch out for, HMRC warns.

From calls and texts to emails and social media messages, scammers are using the panic and pressure to meet the self-assessment deadline on 31 January 2023 as a means to line their own pockets.

HMRC warned people that fraudsters are attempting to trick people out of their cash by pretending to be from the government department.

By responding to the fraudulent messages, or clicking links within them, people could be opening themselves up to financial fraud.

These scams are especially rife around the self-assessment deadline and have also risen during the cost-of-living crisis.

The warning comes as earlier this week, HMRC revealed 45,000 customers have set up a payment plan to pay tax owed in instalments as they’re unable to pay their tax bill in full. It’s an expensive move, however, with customers charged 6% interest on the amount.

The most popular HMRC scams to watch out for

Criminals are continually creating new ways to con people out of their money.

Here are just some of the current scams doing the rounds, according to HMRC:

  • Text messages: HMRC will never send messages asking for personal or financial information. If a text message is sent pretending to be from the department and promising a tax return or refund, this is a scam and should be reported. Suspicious text messages should be sent to HMRC on 60599 (network charges apply) or email phishing@hmrc.gov.uk and then deleted.
  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) scams: Text messages which contain the words ‘COVID-19 refund’ have been reported along with those offering an HMRC tax refund in connection with the pandemic.
  • Tax refund and rebate scams: HMRC will never send notifications by email about tax rebates or refunds and if you receive one you should not visit any websites mentioned, open any attachments, or disclose any personal or financial details.
  • Suspicious phone calls: An automated phone scam informs the recipient that HMRC is filing a lawsuit against them and they need to press 1 to speak to a caseworker and make a payment. Calls relating to National Insurance fraud, or offering tax refunds are also being made. If you receive any of these calls you should hang up immediately. You can also report the phone number to HMRC with the phone number used, date of the call, and details about what was said.
  • WhatsApp messages: If you receive a WhatsApp message from HMRC, it is a scam. The organisation said it never uses this service, you should email details of the message to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk then delete it.
  • Social media scams: People are being contacted via direct messages on social media platforms by criminals pretending to be from HMRC including messages sent on Twitter offering tax refunds. These are scams, you will never be contacted via social media about a genuine refund. If you cannot verify the identity of the social media account, send the details to HMRC.
  • Refund companies: HMRC said it’s aware of companies sending emails and texts offering to apply for a tax rebate, in return for a fee. These are not connected to HMRC where it’s free to apply for a rebate if you’re due one.
  • HMRC customs duty scams: A text and email scam is circulating whereby a customer is told they must pay customs duty to receive a valuable parcel which does not exist. These scams should not be confused with changes introduced on 1 January 2021, advising that some UK consumers buying goods from EU businesses might need to pay customs charges when their goods are delivered. If in doubt, do not reply to anything suspicious, but contact HMRC straight away.

If you’re a victim of fraud, you should report it to Action Fraud as soon as possible and contact your bank if you believe your financial details have been accessed.

The warning comes as a quarter of fraud victims could miss out on refunds which they “simply can’t afford” amid the cost-of-living crisis if the regulator’s plan for a £100 threshold and £35 claim excess gets the go ahead.

Genuine HMRC texts being sent to customers

From this week, the tax office will start to send text messages if a person calls one of their helplines from a mobile phone in an attempt to lower call waiting times.

It said it will tell the person on the call to expect a text message either immediately or straight after the call. This is likely to contain information to a link on a Gov.uk page.