HMRC has warned people to take extra care to guard against scammers in the run-up to the annual self-assessment tax deadline on 31st January. It has boosted its own online protection, and is encouraging taxpayers to do the same.
The deadline is already enough to strike terror into the hearts of anyone who has to complete a tax return, but to make matters worse, criminals traditionally take this opportunity to cash in, by running a number of tax return scams.
The Trading Standards National eCrime Team says the beginning of every year is boom time for tax phishing scams, and a survey for Which? last year revealed that 40% of people have received a phishing email disguised as contact from HMRC.
There's a variety of different versions of these. Some will ask for your details on the pretext you are due a refund, others will simply say you need to confirm or update your details.
How to spot the scam
HMRC has warned people to be highly skeptical about any email that seems to come from HMRC, because the majority of these will be scams. If in doubt, HMRC has made it clear that it will never include or ask for personal or financial information to be sent online. This includes your full address, postcode, Unique Tax Reference (UTR), or bank details. Neither will it include or ask for financial information about a customer or their tax affairs.
It won't send anything out as an attachment or a weblink, and it won't include any personal HMRC email addresses for people to send their replies to.
If you are due a refund or repayment, it will not tell you about this by email. It's worth adding that the taxman will never ask for payment via an email.
If an email claiming to be from HMRC asks for any of this information - or contains any of it - then you are being targeted by a scammer.
If you receive an email from HMRC, and you are not sure whether it is legitimate, if you submit your tax return online, the best way to check if HMRC is trying to contact you is to log into your account (although don't click on any links in the email). Here you will see any messages sent by HMRC recently.
You can also call the self-assessment helpline, although at this time of year be prepared for your call not to be answered - or for a wait of 30 minutes or more.
And given how prevalent this scam is, it's always best to err on the side of caution.