Tax scam warning for students

New students starting university this year could be targeted by a fresh wave of tax scams, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has warned.

It is writing to UK universities advising them to warn new students about tax scams sent by fraudsters to steal students’ money and personal details.

More than 620,000 tax-related email scams were reported to HMRC last year – up 20,000 on the previous year.

This included thousands of reports the department received about scam emails targeting students.

Fraudsters can use a range of methods to target students, most commonly by sending fake tax refund offers using seemingly legitimate university email addresses often ending in “ac.uk” to avoid detection.

Depending on the details a criminal is able to obtain from a student, they could steal money, set up direct debits, go on spending sprees online or take control of their computer – accessing functions such as their webcam.

Jesse Norman, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said: “Cyber criminals use every means they can to steal money and personal data from students.

“That’s why HMRC is asking all UK universities to make sure students know how to protect themselves.”

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive at Universities UK, said: “The message to students is to remain vigilant and question anything that seems unusual.

“We would encourage any student who fears their account may have been misused to speak to either their university support services, banks, or to the police.”

Universities minister Chris Skidmore said: “As hundreds of thousands of new students start their life-changing journey at university this month, it is absolutely right that they are made aware of the risks of tax scams.

“University should be one of the most enjoyable times in a student’s life, and I want everyone to know how they should react in an instance where they are targeted. I welcome the work by HMRC and Universities UK, who are encouraging institutions to inform students about this issue.”

HMRC said students may be particularly susceptible to tax refund scams because they may have had little or no interaction with the tax system before.

This could make the offer of a tax refund from a scammer seem attractive, particularly when on a budget.

Often, HMRC-related email scams spoof the branding of gov.uk and well-known organisations in an attempt to appear authentic.

The recipient’s name and email address may be included within the email.

As well as email tricks, phone scams have also been used increasingly by criminals in an attempt to threaten taxpayers into handing over cash.

HMRC had more than 100,000 reports of such scams last year, compared with 400 in 2016.

The department is working with Ofcom and mobile networks to curtail these scams.

If students receive an email offering money to be sent to them by someone claiming to be HMRC and it seems fake, then they should report it to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk.

Here are HMRC’s tips for students for spotting a scam:

1. Recognise the signs – genuine organisations such as banks and HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your Pin, password or bank details.
2. Stay safe – do not give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in emails you were not expecting.
3. Take action – forward suspect emails claiming to be from HMRC to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk and texts to 60599.
4. Check gov.uk for information on how to avoid and report scams and to recognise genuine HMRC contact.
5. Contact your bank immediately if you believe you have submitted card details to a scammer and report to Action Fraud if you suffer financial loss.

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