Fraudsters are targeting families as they rush to meet the tax credit renewal deadline. One charity is warning people not to feel so stressed about the deadline that they fall prey to these criminals.
There are just three weeks left for people to complete renewal forms that will enable them to continue receiving tax credits. Even if you no longer want to claim tax credits - or you think you may not be entitled to any - if you claimed the credits at all during the last financial year you will need to fill in a form for this year too, and submit it by the end of July.
The pressure of the deadline, combined with the complexity of the process, is proving an opportunity for fraudsters. The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group has warned that: "Sadly, this is a time of the year when there is an increase in fraudulent activity which often targets the most vulnerable taxpayers."
HMRC says that fraudsters have been targeting tax credit claimants with scam emails, fake websites and text messages. Last year, between April and July, they had reports of 51,000 phishing emails targeting claimants - nearly double the level in 2013. This year it expects even more.
Some of these messages claim to be from a 'Tax Credit Office Agent' offering a tax refund. Some of them include a link to a fake version of the GOV.UK website.
If you reply to the message or visit the site, you are likely to be asked for bank details or other sensitive information such as passwords - on the pretext that they want to transfer money into your account. Fraudsters then try to take money from your account, or sell your identity to criminals.
Nick Lodge, Director General of Benefits and Credits, HMRC, said the best way to protect yourself is to bear in mind that HMRC will never ask people to disclose personal information by email. He added: "The only way to renew tax credits and report changes online is on GOV.UK."
You should only access this website by typing it into your browser yourself, and never click a link in an email. If you have any concerns, bear in mind you can complete the process by post or by phone too.
Whatever you do, Anthony Thomas, Chairman of LITRG, points out that it's vital not to let the scam threat put you off renewing as soon as possible. He says: "If HMRC have been paying you too much since the start of the tax year in April, you could have been overpaid and renewing promptly will stop any overpayment from continuing to build up. If you have been paid too little for the previous tax year, the sooner you renew, the sooner you will receive that underpayment. If you fail to renew on time, you could find yourself having to repay to HMRC all the tax credits you have been paid since the start of the tax year in April."
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