Tax man warning over scam emails

Tax credit renewal season sees scams surge

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HMRC has issued a warning to anyone who claims tax credits. In the run-up to the tax credit renewal deadline on 31 July, they expect a surge in the number of scam emails from criminals using this as an opportunity to steal your money and your personal details.

So what do you need to watch for?

Apparently during last year's tax credits renewal period, which runs from April to July, almost 25,000 phishing emails were reported to HMRC. This year that figure could be more than double - as in May alone there were more than 11,000 scam emails reported - a 131% increase.

It has been working to shut the scammers down: HMRC closed 611 scam websites during the tax credits renewal period last year. Over the whole of 2013 there were 1,740 scam sites closed down - most based in Turkey, Spain and Bulgaria.

However, while they are busy shutting the scam sites down, the criminals are building new ones, so there is still a very serious risk that you will become a victim of the scammers.

What to watch for

The emails will claim to be from HMRC, and will offer the promise of money back - possibly as a refund or more credits. They will include a link: if you click on it you will be directed to a fake replica of the HMRC website. This site has been built by the scammers with the sole intention of taking your money. In some cases the link also includes a virus.

You will be asked to provide credit or debit card details or other sensitive information such as passwords. They often ask for your name, address, date of birth, bank account number, sort code, credit card details, national insurance number, passwords and mother's maiden name. The criminals will claim this is to prove your identity and enable them to pay the money into your account - but in reality it is so they can take money from your account, or run up a credit card debt in your name.

By getting such an array of information, they will also be in a position to sell your details onto other criminals who will use it to steal your identity, and run up more debts in your name.

Protect yourself

Nick Lodge, Director General of Benefits and Credits at HMRC, is very clear that HMRC will never ask people to disclose personal or payment information by email, so if you get an email like this it is always a scam - in every single case.

If you get an email asking for details, especially one which includes an attachment, don't open it and do not click on the link. Forward it to phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk and then delete it immediately.

Lodge adds: "One scam is contained in an email circulated from taxreturn@hmrc.gov.uk telling recipients about a 2013 tax refund report. The email appears to have been issued by "Tax Credit Office Preston", but it is a scam. It includes an attachment that contains a virus. Recipients are urged not to respond and to delete it immediately."