%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%The taxman is warning people to beware of bogus emails purporting to offer them a tax rebate after seeing a surge of almost 50% in consumers reporting being targeted by these "phishing" scams.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said that 23,247 phishing emails were reported to it in the three months leading up to the online self-assessment deadline on January 31 - marking a 47% increase on the same period a year earlier. During 2013, customers reported more than 91,000 phishing emails to HMRC.
Emails sent as part of the scam often begin with a sentence such as: "We have reviewed your tax return; according to our calculations of your last year's accounts a tax refund of (an amount of money) is due."
The conmen behind the emails try to trick victims into handing over their bank account or credit card details. Typical details requested in these emails include the victim's name, address, date of birth, bank account number, sort code, credit card details, National Insurance number, passwords and mother's maiden name.
Anyone responding to this type of email risks opening their bank account to fraudsters and having their details sold on to other organised criminal gangs.
This year, HMRC has seen a record-breaking 8.48 million tax returns filed online by last Friday's deadline.
Its actions to combat scammers have led to websites being closed down around the world, including those based in the United States, Russia and elsewhere. The revenue body said that in 2013 it closed down 1,476 websites sending scam phishing emails.
Last month, the revenue body shut down 178 websites which it found were the source of these emails, up from 65 in January 2013.
There is often a spike in criminals flooding people's inboxes with bogus messages around this time of year as some people might be expecting to get a tax rebate. But legitimate tax rebate forms, called P800s, from HMRC will contain a payment order and will never ask for credit or debit card details.
Gareth Lloyd, head of digital security at HMRC, said: "HMRC never contacts customers who are due a tax refund via email - we always send a letter through the post.
"If you receive an email claiming to be from HMRC which offers a tax rebate, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and then delete it permanently. We can, and do, close these websites down, and do all we can to ensure taxpayers stay safe online by working with law enforcement agencies around the world to target the criminals behind these scams."
HMRC strongly advises customers who receive such an email to check the advice published at www.hmrc.gov.uk/security/index.htm where examples of these fake emails are listed.
People should not click on websites or links contained in suspicious emails or open attachments. Anyone who has answered one of these emails should forward the email and disclosed details to
The biggest scams of 2013
HMRC warns of bogus rebate emails
First Direct found that the most common type of fraud was the 'fake email', which makes up 53% of all scams. This is also known as phishing, and involves the fraudsters contacting you, requesting personal information like passwords and PINs.
They use all kinds of methods to persuade you to reveal your details: from pretending to be your bank, to pretending to be the taxman. Earlier this year HMRC warned people to watch out for scam emails promising tax credit refunds in return for account details - timed to coincide with a major advertising campaign to remind people to renew their tax credits.
This is an old and established scam, but is the second most prevalent in the UK this year. It involves someone getting in contact with a sob story, and asking for a sum of money in return for paying you a larger sum. If you pay up you may get requests for more cash but you will never receive a payout.
This year the horrible twist on the scam was that the gangs pretended to be a victim of the war in Syria, in desperate need of money and able to pay you from money he has hidden overseas, once you give him enough money to escape the country.
This is a new take on phishing, which Financial Fraud Action warned about in August. They said victims receive a cold call asking for personal or financial information. Some 39% of all people targeted by these calls said they found it difficult to tell if the person was genuinely from their bank or whether it was a scam. First Direct says this is the third most prevalent type of scam.
Duplicating your bank cards made up 14% of fraud this year. Old-fashioned card scams are actually on the rise this year. The experts say that the introduction of chip and PIN means 'crude scams' are back in vogue, where criminals distract people in shops and bars, or shoulder surf at cash machines and then steal customers' cards without them noticing.
These also make up 14% of all scams. You receive an email telling you that you have won a lottery. All you have to do is get in touch with the 'claims agent' who you'll need to pay a 'processing fee' or a 'transfer charge' to. These 'agents' are all criminals, who will just take your money and run.
We warned in November of a boom in phoney research calls. Boiler room operatives will call pretending to be university researchers looking into investor confidence. In fact, they are just trying to find out how best to exploit you: asking how much cash you have, your attitude to risk, and determining whether an appeal to greed would work.
Back in May we warned that you could receive a telephone call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from Microsoft. The scammers were using a variety of techniques to extract money from their victims. These included infecting computers with malware and charging to remove it, charging people a fortune for help they didn't want or need, or even just asking for their credit card details.
This is not a new type of scam. For years now different types of Trojan viruses have been embedded in various web pages and links. If you click on the page or link you're taken to malicious websites, which install a virus. The virus then quietly sits on your computer, stealing passwords and account details until it has enough details to empty your bank accounts.
This scam took two very popular forms this year. The first was a link sent in an email pretending to be from Facebook, and inviting you to click the link. When you did, it would install the virus and then send the link to your Facebook friends.
The other form was a page with a fake YouTube video in the background, which claimed to show Rita Ora's famous wardrobe malfunction. However, the site prompts you to enter your Facebook details, so you can see the video and 'personalise your experience'. The criminals then have access to your Facebook account.
As the jobs market continues to be tight, the job offer scam is still a real risk. Financial Fraud Action issued a warning about fake online job offers, that could turn innocent job hunters into unwitting money launderers.
The jobs offered are called things like "payment processing agents" or "administration assistants". They involve the payment of the proceeds of crimes into your bank account. You then pay the cash into an overseas account, effectively hiding the money and laundering it for criminals. In return you receive a share of the money. This is a criminal act.
These reached a peak this year after One Direction collected their Brit award (pictured) and announced a World Tour - and demand for the tickets exploded. The scammers set up fake sites offering tickets to sold-out gigs. Desperate fans trawling the net would stumble across them and take a risk. They handed over hundreds of pounds, the criminals took the money, shut the website, and ran.