University students at high risk of tax scams, HMRC warns

In the past year, almost 1m people reported scams to HMRC. Photo: Getty Images
In the past year, almost 1 million people reported scams to HMRC. Photo: Getty

University students doing part-time jobs are at increased risk of falling victim to scams that offer tax refunds or ask them to pay unpaid tax, the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said.

More than 900,000 university students held part time jobs during the 2020/21 academic year. For many, it is their first time being employed. Being new to interacting with HMRC and being unfamiliar with genuine contact from the department makes them particularly vulnerable.

“Most students won’t have paid tax before, and so could easily be duped by scam texts, emails or calls either offering a ‘refund’ or demanding unpaid tax,” said Mike Fell, head of cyber security operations at HMRC.

In the past year, almost 1 million people reported scams to HMRC and between April and May 2021, more than 5,000 phone scams were reported by 18- to 24-year-olds.

In the last year, HMRC has responded to 998,485 referrals of suspicious contact from the public. Nearly half of these offered bogus tax rebates.

Read more: Nine ways to spot a tax scam in 2020/2021

Scammers are usually trying to steal money or personal information to sell on to others. One way of doing this is including links or files in emails and texts which download dangerous software onto a computer or phone.

This can gather personal data or lock the recipient’s machine until they pay a ransom.

HMRC has said students will never get an email, text message, message in an application (for example WhatsApp) or a phone call from HMRC which tells them about a tax rebate or penalty and asks for their personal or payment information.

Such contact should be reported to the department's phishing team. A suspicious text message should be forwarded to 60599 while emails and screenshots can be sent to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk.

People can also contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

If students have already given up their personal information by mistake, they should send an email to security.custcon@hmrc.gov.uk.

Read more: FCA issues fresh warning on 'pump and dump' crypto scams

This should not include the actual information, but rather a description of what they disclosed, for example name, address or HMRC User ID.

Earlier this year, HMRC's CEO Jim Harra said even he had received a scam call from fraudsters pretending to be from the department, amid a spike in people being bombarded with bogus messages.

Watch: Easy budgeting tips for when you leave home