Tis’ the season for Self Assessment scams

Scams are getting more and more sophisticated. You might think there is no way you’d ever get caught out, but it’s also highly likely that a convincing-looking message has made you pause for a minute or two, particularly over the past 18 months.

With the deadline for Self Assessment not far away, HMRC has issued a warning about phishing emails and texts sent to taxpayers, which ask them to supply personal information, including their bank details. It says around 800,000 tax-related scams were reported last year; some individuals even received a phone call, asking them to urgently transfer money owed, to avoid HMRC starting criminal proceedings against them. Or, the bogus communication could be insisting there is a rebate due for a recently-filed return ­­– could they kindly provide an account for the funds to be returned into?

HMRC does send out millions of emails and texts at the end of the year, to remind people not to forget about the impending deadline, also where online to find advice and support if they are worried about paying their bill. Taking advantage of people’s confusion and vulnerability is a tactic of scammers and it only takes one ‘mistake’, when they believe the email, text, or call to be legit, to set off a chain of events.

So, what to look out for? A sense of urgency is a big flag, so if you’re asked to supply your details immediately. Scammers know plenty of us spend a lot of time glued to our phones, so if they catch us when we’re distracted, they have a better chance convincing us they’re genuine before the penny drops – and by then it’s often too late. HMRC will never email about tax rebates or refunds, so this is another flag.

If something seems ‘off’, there is a form on gov.uk to report phone calls, you can also forward suspicious emails/texts to HMRC (details about how to do this are also on the government’s website). Never give sensitive information out, no matter how earnest the communication seems. Never click on a link in an email or text, and don’t reply to it either. Forward it to HMRC, then delete it. If you need help with filing, there are some excellent resources on the government’s website, including videos and live webinars.

Use your instincts and trust them. There is no shame in being ‘caught out’ – many have, and many more will be – but be on your guard to avoid a distressing situation. If your income is complex, you will probably benefit from the services of a chartered accountant. Use all the tools available, and you will be helping HMRC take down the scammers.

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