The UK’s tax body has warned of a surge in fraudsters targeting Self Assessment customers. The warning issued by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) comes as company directors, shareholders and sole traders are beginning to complete and submit their Self Assessment tax returns for the 2021/22 tax year by the January 31 deadline.
According to HMRC, business owners have submitted more than 180,000 referrals of suspicious contact over the last 12 months. Of those 180,000 referrals, almost 81,000 turned out to be scams in which fraudsters were offering phony tax rebates to HMRC customers.
While there are a range of scams that have targeted company owners in recent years, a large number of these schemes now involve criminals impersonating HMRC staff. They target individuals by email, text or telephone — offering legitimate HMRC customers fake tax rebates or falsely threatening customers with arrest or legal action unless they immediately pay an unexpected tax bill into a phony bank account.
Encouraging Self Assessment customers to remain vigilant against these types of schemes, Director General for Customer Services, Myrtle Lloyd, pointed out that HMRC would never call a customer threatening arrest.
“Never let yourself be rushed. If someone contacts you saying they’re from HMRC, wanting you to urgently transfer money or give personal information, be on your guard,” she said.
“Tax scams come in many forms. Some threaten immediate arrest for tax evasion, and others offer a rebate. Contacts like these should set alarm bells ringing, so take your time and check ‘HMRC scams advice’ on GOV.UK.”
Who is at risk from Self Assessment scams?
Fraudsters tend to target customers that they know or strongly believe are likely to be in contact with HMRC over tax matters. This is why the tax body has warned that Self Assessment customers in particular should be extra careful concerning potential scams and communications from anyone claiming to be from HMRC.
Scams that customers have reported to the authorities over recent months include fake text messages, emails, and spam phone calls. What’s more, HMRC has cautioned that customers who haven’t completed a Self Assessment return previously might be particularly at risk of getting tricked into clicking on phishing links in these texts or emails, or voluntarily revealing personal or financial information to cybercriminals, because they’re less familiar with legitimate HMRC communications.
Unfortunately, the numbers indicate that these targeted scams are on the rise.
Between August 2021 and August 2022, HMRC said that its dedicated Customer Protection Team received a total of 181,296 referrals of suspicious contact from fraudsters by members of the public. Over 80,000 of those reported scams specifically offered customers access to bogus tax rebates — which may appear to be a particularly attractive incentive given the current cost of living crisis.
What’s more, HMRC responded to more than 55,000 phone scams last year. As a point of reference, the tax body only received 425 reports of phone scams in April 2020. In August 2022, it received a whopping 5,913 reports of phone scams.
In response to this hike in criminal activity, HMRC said that it has been working alongside telecom providers and Ofcom to remove 48 phone numbers being used to commit HMRC-related phone scams, and reported over 10,500 malicious websites to be taken down.
To help both new and existing Self Assessment customers protect themselves from falling victim to these scams, HMRC has issued a number of key points of advice for you to bear in mind:
- HMRC does not communicate with customers via the popular messaging app WhatsApp. If you receive any communication through WhatsApp claiming to be from HMRC, it is a scam.
- HMRC will never send you a QR code. If you receive a QR code from HMRC at any time, it’s a scam. Likewise, HMRC will never ask you to use any gift or payment vouchers.
- HMRC will never contact you threatening arrest, or leave a voicemail threatening any sort of legal action. This should be an immediate red flag.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can report those scams to HMRC to try and shut fraudsters down.
How to report these Self Assessment scams
As part of its latest warning to Self Assessment customers, HMRC is encouraging all customers to report suspicious activity of any kind.
If you receive a text message from someone claiming to be working for HMRC that you’re unsure about, you can forward that text to HMRC on 60599. Similarly, any suspicious emails can be forwarded on to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone who receives a tax scam phone call can report it to HMRC using an online form, which can be found on GOV.UK.
If you’ve already fallen victim to an HMRC-related scam and suffered some sort of financial loss, you’re encouraged to report it to Action Fraud.
How to file your Self Assessment return
If you’re a new limited company owner or sole trader, you might be unfamiliar with Self Assessment tax returns. Don’t worry, because this filing obligation is relatively fast and straightforward.
Self Assessment is HMRC’s system to deduct income tax from workers who are self-employed, or generate income that isn’t taxed through PAYE. If you earn money that isn’t automatically taxed by an employer, that means you’ll need to declare your income to HMRC and pay the appropriate amount of tax using a Self Assessment tax return.
There are two ways to submit a Self Assessment return: by post or online.
The deadline for filing paper tax returns for the 2022/23 tax year is 31 October 2023. If you’re filing online, the deadline to submit your return is 31 January 2024. It’s critical to make sure you file your return on time to avoid penalties — and it’s also important to note that any tax due must be paid to HMRC by 31 January as well.