Tax & admin · 8 January 2016

HMRC warns against scam emails ahead of self-assessment deadline

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Sophisticated cyber fraud is expected to increase as HMRC’s 31 January online self-assessment deadline approaches

HMRC has issued a warning to taxpayers to remain especially vigilant against scam emails throughout January, as cyber criminals – in the run up to the 31 January self-assessment tax deadline – make the most of the peak in online activity by carrying out increasingly sophisticated frauds.

Fraudulent emails often appear legitimate, HMRC said, and those filing self-assessment tax returns need to ensure the use of official forms.

HMRC’s director of security and information Jonathan Lloyd White said: “When using our online service, I would urge all our customers to be vigilant, and remember that HMRC will never send an email to ask for your personal information or password, or include a link or attachment.”

Other tell-tale signs that an email may be fraudulent include the offer of a payment or refund of some kind, the inclusion of personal information such as bank details or a Unique Tax Reference (UTR) and a personal HMRC email address to respond to.

“The methods that fraudsters use to get information are constantly changing, so people need to be alert,” White added.

Of the ten million UK taxpayers completing online self-assessment forms ahead of 31 January, roughly 40 per cent will receive fake emails pretending to be from HMRC, a survey
by digital authentication vendor Miracl has found.

HMRC has encouraged taxpayers to highlight any suspicious looking emails – providing an official HMRC email address to forward them too. Since July 2014, HMRC reports that it has identified and shut down over 22,000 fraudulent websites.

The warning comes after HMRC came under heavy criticism in December from investigators at the National Audit Office (NAO).

Claiming HMRC was failing to properly address fraud and tax evasion and avoidance, a NAO report found that small and micro businesses and individuals with complicated financial affairs were major contributors to tax fraud – costing the government around £16bn a year in total.

The tax office has already added increased security controls to its online self-assessment service in response to customer worries. In addition, it has asked taxpayers to keep anti-virus protection updated on web browsers, whilst changing passwords regularly and safeguarding them.

HMRC reported £26.6bn of additional revenue from efforts to tackle the overall tax gap in 2014 to 2015. The NAO, however, found only partial data to confirm how much of that revenue came from fraud prevention.

In response to the report’s findings, chair of the all-party committee on responsible taxation Margaret Hodge stated that the tax office had gotten its priorities wrong. “HMRC still focuses too much on small businesses – the easy wins – and lets the big multinationals off the hook,” she said.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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