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Beware of the HMRC scams. Is it really the taxman calling?

In recent years, many of us have received bogus emails purporting to be from HMRC. Many of these HMRC scams are so badly forged that it’s not difficult to spot they are fake – not least because they don’t address you by name and they contain basic spelling errors.

Unfortunately the fraudsters have turned their efforts up a notch, and we are hearing increasing numbers of reports of fake phone calls.

After hearing a few reports of suspicious phone calls, I discovered that there has been a spate of fake calls supposedly coming from HMRC. The MoneySavingExpert.com website reports that victims have been asked to pay fake debts and taxes with iTunes gift cards.

It seems the scammers leave an automated voice call with a list of options, saying that HMRC is filing a lawsuit against you.

So, if you do receive a call from the taxman, be sure to check it is genuine. Never give any payment details out in response to calls and messages and always phone HMRC’s official number to check whether any call is genuine. Likewise, if you receive a text message asking you to pay tax, always call to check it is legitimate – it is unlikely to be so.

Finally, if you do receive a bogus call or message, be sure to report it to Action Fraud. The more the scammers are reported, the easier it will be to bring them to justice.

There also seems to be an endless growth in illegal sites and HMRC scams (by scammers who aim to make money by claiming to be associated with HMRC).

According to HMRC:

Scammers create websites that look similar to HMRC’s official site and then direct the public to call numbers with extortionate costs in comparison to the low cost and no-cost service HMRC provides. These sites promote non-HMRC premium rate phone numbers as a means of reaching HMRC, but these are merely call forwarding services that connect callers to HMRC at a significant price. HMRC’s own 0300 numbers are mostly free or charged at the national landline rate.

In other cases, sites charge for forwarding information to HMRC which can be provided free of charge through hmrc.gov.uk.

Hapless taxpayers caught by these websites will find themselves with hefty phone costs for being routed to “free” HMRC helplines. The specific tactics and costs on each site vary, but anecdotal reports show the average victim reporting a cost of at least £15 per call.

To counter this activity, HMRC has successfully challenged the ownership of these websites, masquerading as official websites, and taken them out of the hands of cheats. Analysis has shown that had HMRC not taken this action then the public would have lost millions to these phone scams.

Readers who need to contact HMRC can find the official contact numbers at https://www.gov.uk/contact-hmrc.

But do remember, HMRC sometimes will call you for legitimate reasons. Recently, an elderly lady I know received a phone call from someone saying that they were from HMRC and that she had underpaid her tax bill.

When I reviewed her information, it seemed to me that HMRC had plucked the figure from the air. The supposed underpayment was based on a completely random taxable income figure. We are now trying to get the matter resolved, but the lesson is that – even if a call is genuine, don’t automatically assume that HMRC has got its facts right. If you’re asked to pay extra tax, talk to one of the THP team today – we’ll make sure you don’t pay what you don’t owe.

Avatar for Jon Pryse-Jones
About Jon Pryse-Jones

Since joining THP in 1978, Jon Pryse-Jones has been hands on with every area of the business. Now specialising in strategy, business planning, and marketing, Jon remains at the forefront of the growth and development at THP.

An ideas man, Jon enjoys getting the most out of all situations, “I act as a catalyst for creative people and encourage them to think outside the box,” he says, “and I’m not afraid of being confrontational. It often leads to a better result for THP and its clients.”

Jon’s appreciation for THP extends to his fellow team members and the board.  “They really know how to run a successful business,” he says.  He’s keen on IT and systems development as critical to success, and he continues to guide THP to be at the cutting edge and effective.

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