HM Revenue and Customs has warned taxpayers of a surge in phishing scams. It said that almost 75,000 fake emails have been reported by taxpayers in the past six months - a 70% increase on the same period last year.
The emails claim to be from the taxman, and say that the recipient is due a tax refund. In order to get their hands on their money they have to reveal personal information such as their name, address, date of birth, bank details, password, or their mother's maiden name. Once the victim has provided the information, money is stolen from their bank account and their details are sold on to other criminal gangs.
Steve Singh, Deputy Head of Operations, HMRC Digital Security, emphasised: "HMRC never contacts customers who are due a tax refund by email – we always send a letter through the post. If you receive an email which claims to be from HMRC, and which offers you a tax refund, we recommend you send it to email@example.com and then permanently delete it."
He added: "We can, and do, close these websites down and we continue our efforts to work with law enforcement agencies around the world to bring down the criminals behind these scams." Over the same six-month period, HMRC helped shut down more than 4,000 websites responsible for sending out the emails. The problem is that the criminals are one step ahead, and as soon as a website is closed down, they have set up a new one.
It means it's also essential for us to stay on our toes.
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HMRC says it's vital to keep your login secure. Do not write it down or tell it to anyone else. The same goes for your password - which should be chosen specifically to be impossible for someone else to guess. Avoid using anything obvious like you name or date of birth - or something generic like the word password or a simple string of numbers like 123456.
Be very wary of all unsolicited emails, even if you are sure they come from a trusted sure like HMRC. Never respond with any of your personal details, and never click on any links embedded in them. A reputable organisation will not ask you to give personal details over email.
Also be highly suspicious of unsolicited emails with a link which takes you to a web page in order to input your personal details. You have no way of knowing what this webpage really is - and whether it's another front for the scammers.
Update your virus software. You need this software installed on your computer, and you need to regularly look for updates. These should spot attacks from viruses designed to steal your personal information.
A decent package will also offer firewall protection to block any unauthorised connections. If you use your mobile to communicate with HMRC or to do any financial transactions, you need to ensure that this has virus protection software too.
If in doubt, always check. HMRC has a list of examples of fake tax scams that criminals have run. It also has a list of email addresses that these emails may come from. It isn't exhaustive, so if the email you have been contacted from isn't on this list, you cannot be certain you are safe. However, it is a useful place to start.
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