HMRC, formally known as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, helps people to deal with taxes and other official payments throughout the year. As millions of people interact with HMRC on a regular basis, scammers appear to have taken advantage of the familiar name to defraud Britons. Official data from HMRC obtained by Lanop Outsourcing, showed the scale of the matter.
In January and February 2020, HMRC faced an average of 26,100 phishing attacks according to the accountancy firm.
However, this soared to an average of 45,046 attacks per month from March to September – a 73 percent increase.
In September, phishing attacks were recorded at 57,801 cases, which was the largest monthly quantity all year.
As well as email phishing attacks, there were also a number of other types of scams associated with the Revenue.
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HMRC reported nearly 200,000 cases of phone scams, with a further 58,921 text message scams.
There are, however, ways for Britons to protect themselves when coming into contact with scams – particularly via email.
People should look out for certain warning signs which alert them to scam correspondence and then take action.
Fraudulent emails usually contain spelling or grammar errors, and may have an unusual layout.
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In addition, requests for personal information such as passwords or bank details can usually be a surefire sign of a scam.
Britons should also check the email address of the sender. If it does not match the trusted organisation’s web address, it may be a scam.
Finally, a sense of urgency, for example telling the recipient they must act quickly or face a threat, can signal a scam.
Mohammad Sohaib, director of Lanop Outsourcing, commented on the matter, stating: “Cyber criminals have not missed a trick when it comes to using the devastating coronavirus to lure unknowing victims into leaking their own private information, such as passwords and payments details, via a phishing scam.
“In one such example, scammers impersonated HMRC to trick business owners into believing that their VAT deferral application, a key government support initiative during the pandemic, had been rejected.
“They would then redirect victims to a website with official HMRC branding, before stealing credit card details.
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“Unfortunately, we are likely to see the percentage of ‘successful’ scams to increase, as the sophistication and quantity of these attacks continues to surge.
“Combatting it requires constant online vigilance from business owners, consumers and internet users, as well as training and education around the threat facing them.”
Anyone who believes they have spotted a suspicious email are encouraged to report it as soon as possible to the Suspicious Email Reporting Service.
The organisation states the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) will analyse the suspicious email and the website it links to.
Any additional information a person provides will assist them in looking for and monitoring suspicious activity.
Steve Peake, UK Systems Engineer Manager at Barracuda Networks also commented on the issue, stating: “As the pandemic continues, businesses must anticipate Covid-19 themed attacks to increase in quantity.
“It’s also worth noting that cyber attacks and scams aren’t just contained to email messages, SMS based phishing attacks, or ‘smishing’, and fraudulent phone calls, also pose a serious threat to consumers, workers and the general public.”
An HMRC spokesperson told Express.co.uk: “Criminals are taking advantage of the package of measures announced by the government to support people and businesses affected by coronavirus. Scammers text, email or phone taxpayers offering spurious financial support or tax refunds, sometimes threatening them with arrest if they don’t immediately pay fictitious tax owed.
“Several of the scams mimic government messages as a way of appearing authentic and unthreatening. HMRC is a well-known brand, which criminals abuse to add credibility to their scams.
“If you can’t verify the identity of the caller, HMRC recommends that you do not speak to them. If someone calls, emails or texts claiming to be from HMRC, saying that you can claim financial help, are due a tax refund or owe tax, or asks for bank details, it might be a scam.
“HMRC’s dedicated Customer Protection Team in Cyber Security Operations works to identify and close down scams every day. HMRC has pioneered the use in government of technical controls to stop its helpline numbers being spoofed, so that fraudsters can no longer make it appear that they are calling from HMRC. The department also works in partnership with the telecoms industry and Ofcom to block malicious phone numbers.”