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The number of fake phone calls and emails purporting to be from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has risen sharply in recent weeks. At Howards Chartered Certified Accountants, we are raising awareness of the issue and advising everyone to be extra vigilant to avoid falling prey to fraudsters.

In one of the latest scams the caller claims that HMRC has started proceedings against you for tax fraud or evasion and then goes on to offer you the services of a lawyer – in return for an up-front payment.

HMRC will sometimes contact you by telephone or email. It is currently conducting National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage checks via phone interview and has commissioned independent research agency Ipsos MORI to carry out research about the Trusted Helper service by letter and email during May and June.

Genuine or bogus?

So, how can you be sure what is a genuine call, SMS text message or email and what is bogus? To help you stay safe HMRC has updated its guidance on how to spot scams and steps to take if you’re targeted by fraudsters.

The guide outlines the circumstances in which HMRC might contact you. You could get an email if you’ve signed-up to the Making Tax Digital for Business VAT pilot or an email alert regarding annual tax summaries. Other initiatives include telephone interviews to conduct compliance checks and emails highlighting the benefits of using your Tax-Free Childcare account.

HMRC’s guide also includes information to help you spot a fraudulent email.  Look out for an incorrect ‘from’ address along with spelling mistakes and poor grammar. Check the greeting, too. Emails from HMRC will typically reference the name you’ve used when signing up to HMRC subscription services and will always explain how to report phishing emails.

Welcome guidance

At Howards we welcome HMRC’s guidance and would advise anyone who has received phishing emails or bogus texts to forward all messages to HMRC.

Even if you get the same or similar messages several times, forward emails to phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk or send text messages to 60599 and then delete them.

Don’t open any attachments or click any links in an email or text because you could inadvertently download malicious software. Also, be aware that fake messages may direct you to a bogus website and ask you to download forms or verify your identity before making a payment.

Remember, HMRC does will never use email or SMS text messages to ask you to disclose personal or financial information. If in doubt, get in touch with your accountant or contact HMRC direct using communications channels that you know to be genuine.

If you believe you’re a victim of a scam and have suffered financial loss, report the matter to Action Fraud.

Howards Chartered Certified Accountants supports a wide range of local businesses. For details about its services call 01785 243276 or visit www.howardsca.co.uk