A CYBERCRIME expert has warned of a tidal wave of scam messages and phone calls being sent to Brits in an attempt to steal their cash.
Fraud-fighter Charlie Shakeshaft told The Sun that crooks are posing as the taxman to trick people into a false sense of security before robbing them blind.
They’re sending emails, texts and WhatsApp messages to victims that are designed to steal money or financial information from them.
Shakeshaft, who is the founder of scam-busting website Individual Protection Solutions (IPS), is urging people to be extra vigilant in the coming weeks.
That’s because HMRC-related scams are predicted to rise in the lead up to the tax self-assessment deadline at the end of the month.
During this period, HMRC sends millions of legitimate emails and texts to taxpayers – something that fraudsters will use to their advantage.
Dozens of IPS members have reported HMRC scam attempts already. They’re a popular form of attack because they are applicable to most people in the UK.
“We have had a huge number of members bring HMRC scams to our attention over the years,” Shakeshaft said.
“Most adults are taxpayers and do receive messages from HMRC from time to time, so scammers try to exploit that familiarity.”
The fraudulent messages are so-called phishing attacks that lure victims to a website that appears to be operated by a trusted entity, such as a bank, social media platform or other service.
The website, however, is phoney with fake content designed to persuade a victim to enter sensitive information, like a password or email address.
Unwitting visitors may alternatively be asked to enter their credit card details or online banking credentials.
Over the phone, phishing attackers will pose as a staff member of a trusted entity and try to convince you to tell them your details.
Whether through calls or fake websites, fraudsters often try to mimic HMRC’s messages so they look authentic.
This is because victims are more likely to transfer money to an institution they recognise and trust.
“HMRC scams come in different shapes and sizes but there are two common techniques,” Shakeshaft explained.
“In one, the scammer pretending to represent HMRC offers the victim a tax refund and asks to take your bank or credit card information in order to send it.
“Clearly, they will then use the bank or credit card information to steal money from their victim.”
He added that the second common technique involves a scammer disguised as HMRC claiming that the tax body is filing a lawsuit against you and that you need to make an immediate payment to stop it.
“The idea is that the victim pays the scammer directly – the whole story is made up,” Shakeshaft said.
In the year from August 2020 to July 2021, HMRC identified millions of instances of HMRC scams.
They’re popular among fraudsters at this time of year, in particular, as the self-assessment deadline looms on January 31.
“During this December-January period, HMRC sends 4million legitimate emails and text messages, so many UK citizens aren’t surprised to receive communications from HMRC at this time,” Shakeshaft said.
“It creates a useful smokescreen for scammers to masquerade as HMRC as they attempt to dupe victims.”
To spot a scam HMRC message or call, there are a number of telltale signs you can look out for.
For instance, the revenue department will never send notifications about tax rebates or refunds with amounts of money mentioned by email.
HMRC will never ask for personal or financial information via text messages, and it does not use Whatsapp.
“If you feel rushed by the caller or sender, that is a telltale sign of a scam. Take your time and do your research by making contact with HMRC on your own terms – not using the information in the message,” Shakeshaft said.
“Go to their website and contact them directly to double-check your personal status.”
The cyber expert founded IPS to protect people from scams with a number of online tools, such as a free weekly scam alert system.
In the UK, you can report a suspected scam email to the National Cyber Security Centre here.
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