Gone Phishing!
We’re not talking about the peaceful recreational practice of sitting by the lake or in a fishing boat with a rod, waiting for a bite. Scam calls and emails are real, prevalent, and most importantly, entirely avoidable, if you are aware of what to look for.

The main focus of this article is going to be scams related to fake phone calls and emails pretending to be from HMRC – the tax office put simply – though it is worth bearing in mind that not all phishing calls will pretend to be from HMRC, but all will inevitably have fraudulent intentions.

“HMRC phoned me and said I might be arrested.”

Calls like this are unfortunately all too common, and are understandably rather scary. Scammers know that the general public are expected to treat tax matters with the utmost seriousness and urgency, and most people do.

The important thing to remember here is that HMRC will never phone you asking for owed money out of the blue. The best course of action is to hang up the call immediately, without saying a word – do not disclose any personal details, including (but not limited to) your name, bank account details, national insurance number, or your employment status. Scammers usually try to demand large one-off payments, though some have recently been obtaining information on the recipient’s employment status, in order to file COVID self-employed grants fraudulently. When they ask for details, don’t give them anything.

“HMRC texted me and said that I owe them money/they owe me money/I am being fined for leaving the house during lockdown”

As above, HMRC will never text you regarding amounts owed to them, or amounts they owe to you. Scammers will do this to lure you onto a webpage where you provide debit card or banking details that they can use to steal your funds – the communications and webpage may look convincing, but don’t be fooled! Do not click any links provided, and do not respond to the text at all.

“HMRC emailed me about a tax rebate – does this mean I’m getting money?”

As great as this sounds, sadly not! This is also a scam set up for the same purposes as the methods above – they will redirect you to a web page that looks almost indistinguishable from the ukgov.co.uk, which will ask for personal and payment details that will be used to defraud you. HMRC will never email you about tax rebates, undercharges, tax owed or refunds. Ensure that you do not reply to the email, open any attachments in the email, or click any weblinks. Aside from the risk of receiving malware through emails, even the act of replying to the email will alert the sender that your email is regularly checked, and this may warrant more scam emails.

“I received one of these calls/emails/texts, but it’s from my bank/credit card/loan provider”

This is a harder one, because some banks (as an example) will send legitimate texts to alert you to overdraft usage, or when you are about to, or have gone over a credit limit. It is worth bearing in mind that banks will not contact you specifically to detail amounts owed, and if an email pretending to be from a bank or credit card company asks for a specific amount to be paid, and provides a link to a webpage that asks for your payment details, it is most likely fake.

The key strategy here, is to not act immediately. Take a step back, hang up the call, and if you are concerned, check your online banking securely, or phone your bank using a phone number taken from their website or your debit card. The same goes for your credit card provider (if you have one), Apple ID, Spotify/Netflix/Amazon accounts, car insurance etc. They all use secure online accounts for a very good reason – if you’re worried that something might be wrong because of a call or email you’ve received, check your online account, and if you need to, give them a call on their legitimate number.

"What do I do when I receive these calls/emails/texts?"

Firstly, don’t panic. There’s nothing that they can do if you don’t provide them with your banking or payment information, or any personal details. They can’t demand your money by contacting you in this manner. If you are concerned that there may be an issue with your tax, you can always contact HMRC directly using the following link - https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-revenue-customs/contact/income-tax-enquiries-for-individuals-pensioners-and-employees. In the case of receiving a suspicious phone call from HMRC, hang up the call, and then phone or contact HMRC using the link provided. Please also give this link a look-https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/phishing-and-bogus-emails-hm-revenue-and-customs-examples/phishing-emails-and-bogus-contact-hm-revenue-and-customs-examples - it details the kinds of scams I have listed above (and more), as well as what to do if you do receive malicious communications pretending to be from HMRC.

You should treat other phone calls, texts and emails from seemingly reputable sources as the same – don’t respond to it immediately (hang up the call if appropriate) and check your online account with whoever they claim to be representing. When contacting the legitimate number for your bank (or other provider), be sure to mention that you have received a suspicious communication, as they will have their own means of reporting phishing attempts.

If you think you might have fallen for a scam – contact your bank immediately.

Generally, banks are good at spotting suspicious payments and have security measures in place to prevent them, but it is still wise to ensure that they are aware. Do also contact the service that the scammer is claiming to represent, and ensure that they are aware.

Unfortunately, digital thieves and scammers are becoming more active due to the financial uncertainty and anxiety surrounding the current COVID pandemic, and it is particularly wise to keep on top of the latest information regarding known scam activity.

Stay safe and stay wise with your communications, and as always, please do get in touch with us if you have any questions.

Colm Donnelly