The most important thing to remember with any form of communication from anyone is to never give out private information unless you’re 100% certain that it’s from a genuine source. Most organisations, including HMRC, make it clear that they will never ask for personal or payment details in this way, so if you’re at all unsure, don’t reply at all. Additionally, HMRC says it will never use emails to let taxpayers know about either tax penalties or rebates.
Unfortunately, there are a number of official looking email addresses (i.e. ones that end with @hmrc.gov.uk) which have been reported as scamming taxpayers, so you can’t be certain whether the email is genuine even if it comes from an address which looks legitimate. Watch out for phrases such as “urgent action” or emails which generically address you as “Dear Customer” or something similar, as both of these are red flags that the email is a hoax.
Scam emails will often take you to an online form asking for personal information, which could include bank details such as your sort code and account number. If you find yourself looking at a form like this, even if it looks genuine, never enter any details. Another method used by hackers is to attach a document to an email which may allow them access to your computer and your data if opened. If you receive an email with an attachment that you’re not completely sure about, don’t open it, even out of curiosity – once is enough for a criminal to gain access!
Whilst HMRC does use text messages to contact taxpayers occasionally, it will never ask for any personal or financial details in this way, so don’t respond to any such messages. If there is a link in the text message, make sure you don’t open this either, as it will likely pose the same threat as an online form or malicious attachment in an email.
Phone scams are often used to target elderly and vulnerable people, with the scammer’s often threatening police involvement if the person they have called does not give them the details they request. If you cannot be certain who you’re speaking with, don’t engage them in conversation and never give out any personal information.