The tax refund scam in your inbox
How scammers pretending to be HMRC tried to target Tony Levene's son....
In September, I revealed how HM Revenue & Customs had effectively scammed my son out of a legitimate tax rebate with a mix of sneaky small print which foxed even top accountants and a total inability to deal with the matter – basically, the taxman said the forms were lost, so tough!
Several appeals to the Revenue press office brought pledges of action. But that's as far as it got – the promises were the inaction that all too many taxpayers seeking rebates have to deal with. Obviously, as soon as they have a tax bill to pay, the taxman suddenly turns into All Action Man.
That's all background for what follows. My son's now realised that short of sending an SAS regiment into HMRC HQ followed by a squadron of tanks, he has little hope of ever seeing the few hundred pounds HMRC owes him again.
So when an email plopped into his in-box offering a rebate of roughly the right amount, there was a millisecond of hope. “There is a good person in HMRC” ran briefly through his mind. But, the next instant he realised that there are no fairy godmothers at HMRC – if there ever were, the latest round of job cuts has ensured only evil stepmothers remain – and the whole thing was a phishing hoax.
The Scam Magnet blog is sometimes taken to task for “stating the obvious.” I'm told: “Surely, no one is so stupid to fall for that?”
But the fact is, scammers would not spend money on spamming the world (yes, spam agencies charge for this) if they did not find vulnerable victims – the elderly, the trusting, the naïve and, most of all, the downright desperate. And it's no good saying there is a warning on the real HMRC website – folks desperate for a refund probably don't look at it.
Scams work. Three years ago, I interviewed a Scarborough man who fell for a phoney Spanish lottery email – it told him he had won €8.5m even though he had never bought a ticket. He was intelligent, with a responsible job earning around three times the national average.
He lived in a substantial house overlooking the sea. After falling for the scam – yes, he was criminally greedy - he remortgaged his home up to the hilt and handed over several hundred thousand pounds to the swindlers for those non-existent euros.
Now he's broke, jobless, and living in a one-bedroom rented flat on benefits. His partner has left him and his family has disowned him.
Now the “bait” in the HMRC phishing email (which I reproduce in full below ) is a measly £244.79, not millions of euros. But while these fraudsters are mainly after bank account and credit card details, they will pass details of victims to other criminals (there is a market in “mugs”) who suggest there is a second, far more substantial, sum of money waiting. This could be “released” for “fees” which will bleed you of everything.
The tax refund phishing email
Subject: HM Revenue & Customs : New Message Alert
Date: Fri, 19 Nov 2010 13:12:24 -0600
The contents of this email and any attachments are confidential and as
applicable, copyright in these is reserved to HM Revenue & Customs.
Unless expressly authorised by us, any further dissemination or
distribution of this email or its attachments is prohibited.
If you are not the intended recipient of this email, please reply to
inform us that you have received this email in error and then delete it
without retaining any copy.
I am sending this email to announce: After the last annual calculation of
your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a
tax refund of 244.79 GBP
You have attached the tax return form with the TAX REFUND NUMBER ID: 381716209, complete the tax return form attached to this message.
After completing the form, please submit the form by clicking the SUBMIT
button on form and allow us 5-9 business days in order to process it.
HMRC Tax Credit Office
What’s wrong with it?
Almost everything is wrong about this email. Although the Preston address is correct, the tax.co.uk has been hijacked (it belongs to an accountancy software company ), the GBP rather than £ suggests a non-UK keyboard, the English is poor, and since when did the Revenue offer refunds in 5-9 business days!?! But the over-riding reason this is a fraud is that HMRC never communicates in this way. It only ever sends letters in the post, not by email.
If you try opening the attachment (even though you shouldn't), the best thing would be getting a "Files HM Revenue & Customs New Message.zip will not be forwarded because they contain a virus that could not be cleaned” warning from your malware catcher. But someone – maybe someone you know will end up a victim. The scamsters know this can work – they've already netted millions.
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Award-winning scams expert Tony Levene explains why he's writing a blog about scams and why he is The Scam Magnet!