Watch out for these HMRC tax refund scams

Simon Ward
by Lovemoney Staff Simon Ward on 07 February 2014  |  Comments 21 comments

Scammers regularly send out fake emails supposedly from HMRC promising a tax refund. Here's what to watch out for.

Watch out for these HMRC tax refund scams

Fraudsters regularly send out thousands of tax refund 'phishing' emails, particularly around the tax deadline times of 31st January and 31st October.

In the three months prior to this year's self assessment deadline at the end of January, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) received reports of 23,247 scam emails. That's a shocking increase of 47% on the same period a year earlier. As a result last month the taxman was able to close 178 illegal websites in January, compared to 65 in the same month in 2013.

Across 2013 as a whole HMRC closed down a whopping 1,476 scam websites linked to these phishing emails

These emails ask you to input your credit card or bank details into an online form, so that the rebate can be paid to you. But if you provide your details, your account will be emptied and your credit cards will be used to their limit, and you may also become a victim of identity fraud.

Don't be caught out. Here's what to look out for.

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What the emails look like

An example of a scam tax refund email

An example of a scam tax refund email

While the emails look genuine, complete with HMRC logo and official-style reference numbers, the dubious English ("your fiscal activity") should set alarm bells ringing.

Often, the email addresses look genuine too, often ending in 'hmrc.gov.uk'. Here are some of the reported email addresses used to distribute the tax rebate emails, according to HMRC:

  • services@hmrc.co.uk
  • noreply@hmrevenue.com
  • service@hmrc.gov.uk
  • service.refund@hmrc.gov
  • secure@hmrc.co.uk
  • hmrc@gov.uk
  • taxes@hmrc.co.uk
  • taxrefund-notice@hmrc.gov.uk
  • taxrefund@hmrc.gov.uk
  • refund-help@hmrc.gov.uk
  • service@online.com
  • email@hmrc.gov.uk
  • refund.alert@hmrc.gov.uk
  • refunds@hmrc.gov.uk
  • customs@hmrc.gov.uk
  • srvcs@hmrc.gov.uk
  • alertsonline@hmrc.co.uk
  • info@hmrc.gov.uk
  • rebate@hmrc.gov.uk

The fake phishing website you click through to can also look genuine, as this example demonstrates.

How you can tell the email is a fake

Simple: HMRC never contacts customers who are due a refund by email. It only ever sends such a letter by post.

So even if the email looks as genuine as this one, it's likely to be a fake.

Similarly, it's worth knowing that HMRC never contacts taxpayers about refunds by telephone, and never uses external companies regarding refunds.

Basically, if it doesn't come in the post from HMRC, it's fake. End of story.

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What to do if you receive an email

If you do get an email like this, you should send it to HMRC for investigation before deleting it. Forward all suspicious emails to HMRC at phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk.

And if you have reason to believe you have been the victim of an email scam, report the issue to your bank/card issuer as soon as possible. 

Get safe online

Remember, phishing emails are common for all sorts of issues. As a rule of thumb, never click on links contained in suspicious emails or open attachments. You can get more help via the Get Safe Online website or read our top 12 tips to keep you safe online. If you use online banking, you may also want to read Online banking: how to stay safe.

If you spot a scam, email us at news@lovemoney.com or post it on our Q&A pages.

This is a classic lovemoney article that has been updated

More on scams and frauds

Tony Levene's scams blog

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Comments (21)

  • engleystewart
    Love rating 4
    engleystewart said

    You would have to be pretty dumb to fall for this one, in my case I know the HMRC have'nt got my e-mail address! Do people really fall for this?

    Report on 30 May 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • skitt
    Love rating 3
    skitt said

    I got one this morning which was a very plausable effort but not having paid any personal tax last year... I would hardly be due a refund! However, I can understand how people can fall for this type of scam as all the links [except one] in the email directed you to the official HMRC website... be aware.

    Report on 30 May 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • naterbox
    Love rating 13
    naterbox said

    HMRC ask that phishing emails be forwarded to them (phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk) so that they can investigate. After that, delete the email.

    Report on 30 May 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • electricblue
    Love rating 769
    electricblue said

    Anything from HMRC will have your full name, tax reference and NI number on it. How stupid would people really have to be to fall for these scams? They do, to my annoyance, send tax return reminders by text message these days. Went very quiet when they had all my papers up to date and they owe me though....

    Report on 30 May 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • leah AKA global leah
    Love rating 17
    leah AKA global leah said

    Problem is scammers make letters looks so genuine nowadays, the vulnerable aren't sure whether it's real or not, as I'd worked via agencies in the past, so I did pay emergency tax, and HMRC has contacted me via snail mails, that's before all these "government" scams started, so I take no notice of any emails from them at all.

    I think the best ones are when I used to get these emails from liturally all the royal families from South Africa, then a few days later, I would get letters from FBI, telling me that I've been scammed (even though I have never replied to these people), I just laugh at the emails, because some are just so funny.

    My advice is, if you aren't sure, ALWAYS just hover over their links, and more than likely it will show a total different web address, so never click on it, if it's not a scam, it's a virus.

    Report on 31 May 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • JoCat67
    Love rating 0
    JoCat67 said

    I just got an email supposedly from HM Revenue and Customs which said:

    "After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity, we have determined that you are-eligible to receive a tax refund of 1,150.50 GBP. Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 2-3 days in order to process it.

    Click Here to submit your tax refund request"

    I knew I hadn't claimed anything from them, and knew it was a scam. But out of curiosity I clicked on the link and got a warning that it was a phishing site. So they are not so clever.

    Report on 11 October 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Iamcoldsteve
    Love rating 329
    Iamcoldsteve said

    ANY emails from 'HMRC' WILL be a scam or a 'phish' as HMRC will NEVER contact you via email. It is something they just DO NOT do.

    End of conversation really.

    Report on 21 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  2 loves
  • PlasticPup
    Love rating 9
    PlasticPup said

    It's not true to say that HMRC never contact anyone by email because they do send alerts and notifications if you're signed up to their online services. The emails do have links to their website but they won't ask you for any personal or bank details.

    Report on 21 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Aitken B
    Love rating 146
    Aitken B said

    So far as I am aware, you can be sure that HMRC will never contact you at all about a rebate.

    HMRC are there to extort money from you for HMG to squander, not for giving money back to you.

    Report on 21 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • nosbort
    Love rating 160
    nosbort said

    @Aitken B - you couldn't be more wrong, if you pay too much in error by bank transfer the excess will just bounce back without notification other than a letter telling you that it has happened.

    @JoCat67 you are living dangerously clicking on scam/phishing email links. If you happen to do that before the site is reported and blocked you will get there and not all of them are just after your information. Many sites will inject viruses as you land on them so if I were you I wouldn't do that again.

    Report on 21 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • Iamcoldsteve
    Love rating 329
    Iamcoldsteve said

    Plasticpup,

    Yes, I should have put the word unsolicited in there somewhere. If you have signed up for email notification they may contact you via this, but will always include name and tax / NI references.

    Report on 21 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • jamiecfc1
    Love rating 42
    jamiecfc1 said

    @Nosbort not sure what you mean by "bounce back" overpayments? HMRC allows you to make overpayments, however if you check your online account it will usually tell you that you have overpaid and ask if you want to request a refund, or occasionally HMRC will send you back the overpayment but with a notification telling you that's what has happened. As for these emails - as an accountant I get many clients asking me if they're real, when I ask them if they've ever given HMRC their email address the penny drops.

    Report on 21 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • ronin007
    Love rating 0
    ronin007 said

    We had a different thing happen with HMRC, they wrote saying they had paid £1700 refund into our account. We hadn't even submitted a return, when checking online A/C password had been changed, when that was reset, our bank details had been changed. No idea how, maybe a trojan virus or key logger which had stolen our passwords etc & fraudsters had changed our 1/2 completed return & made a loss & then reclaimed it, paying into a newly created bank A/C. It's still being investigated by HMRC fraud dept. Amazing how a new bank A/C can be created, money paid in & taken out without the fraudsters being traceable. Fortunately its not our responsibility, but worrying how we were 'philshed; no trace of viruses on PC. Beware!

    Report on 22 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Meduza
    Love rating 8
    Meduza said

    i remember receiving two individual e-mails pretending to be from hmrc. the content did not match my situation so obviously it was a scam. i reported it to the fraud team of hmrc. but i can imagine others less aware and less knowledgeable about internet security might fall for such a thing, especially when the sending e-mail was only different by a dash from the real HMRC one.

    Report on 10 February 2014  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Meduza
    Love rating 8
    Meduza said

    and in contrary to angry tax payers here, i have been sent a refund without claiming anything ONCE. just silly £17, buts till better than nothing, right? i normally tend to claim when i think i am entitled. it never took too long, they were quite prompt and with no hassle. even when phoning them from the HMRC centre (saves money on lengthy waiting when calling their premium numbers) they were very understanding and patient in explaining the things i asked all over again to make sure that i understood it right.

    once i worked as a contractor, registered a year later after i was supposed to (two people that were supposed to know, advised me wrongly as no need to register since i was a full-time student), facing a potential £100 fine for late registration. i risked it. perhaps because i contacted HMRC myself without anybody else finding out first, i was not charged. all went smooth. when my business activity was over, they sent me a letter that i no longer have to fill the tax return.

    maybe some of you were just impatient or unlucky. one last claim for wrongly charged interest tax from my saving is ahead of me, fingers crossed. just a small sum but every little helps (i love this slogan) :)

    Report on 10 February 2014  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • electricblue
    Love rating 769
    electricblue said

    To fall for these HMRC scams you need to be stupid, illiterate and gullible. They can't look genuine because there are NO genuine emails in this format from HMRC. Greed seems to be the hook which reels people in. There is a generation which claims not to be 'tech-savvy' but this is becoming a pitiful excuse. From the first days I got involved with the internet and online chat, forums etc., around 20 years ago, I found that I was dealing with people of all ages and some even then in their 80's happily embracing the 'new technology'. HMRC are very helpful and as has been said, phone from one of their help centres or WRITE to them. Other than fraudsters, who even uses the term 'fiscal activity'?

    Almost all scam emails look like they were written by an idiot using Google Translate. The real problem with Phishing emails are the pitiful literacy standards of the recipients - not their lack of internet skills.

    Report on 10 February 2014  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • Steviebaby1959
    Love rating 34
    Steviebaby1959 said

    @electricblue

    And I quote ''To fall for these HMRC scams you need to be stupid, illiterate and gullible.''

    That's what the vast majority of working people are these days.....

    Report on 10 February 2014  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • electricblue
    Love rating 769
    electricblue said

    @Steviebaby1959

    Are you implying that those who are not working are smarter? Ignoring the 'Benefits Street' extreme, you may well have a point. There comes a point where protecting people from their own stupidity is not the responsibility of government or financial institutions. Lovemoney keeps publishing articles which, we are told, are of great interest to some readers , apparently, unaware of even the basics of online security and devoid of any common sense. Learn to view the 'source' of an email and 99.9% will immediately flag up discrepancies.

    Report on 16 February 2014  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • dmhzx
    Love rating 30
    dmhzx said

    Any email from any financial institution (HMRC, Banks, Insurance etc) is definitely a fake if it doesn't address you by name.

    That's not to say if it does use your name it IS genuine, but follow this one simple rule, and you'll protect yourself from most phishing scams.

    Report on 16 February 2014  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Meduza
    Love rating 8
    Meduza said

    those working people were meant to be working class people, i guess. many are illiterate. i am a london university graduate and still my english grammar is not perfect (i dont use capitals deliberately though). i speak two more languages and i am learning a third one. the additional two, i once was able to hold a reasonable conversation in, are almost completely forgotten (use it or lose it). nonetheless, i still may fail to spot grammatical errors in such fake mails and i still make many stylistic and grammatical (or even vocabulary) errors. just saying. dont judge people for not being excellent in something, they may be great in other things and fall victims to such scams. but they all are required to comply with the law and submit tax return when they have their own business, not being aware of such scams. some may be dyslexic or having other mental impairment making them more vulnerable.

    Report on 16 February 2014  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • hopefultom
    Love rating 50
    hopefultom said

    @Medusa

    I am curious to know why you, or anyone would refuse to use capital letters, like the rest of us.

    Who is your non-conformism aimed at ?

    Also, in view of your, obviously strong feelings, why have you used a capital in your username ?

    Whilst on the subject of grammar, if Oldhenry is reading this thread, perhaps he could explain why he seems to be serially incapable of spelling the word " the " correctly.

    Sorry for veering off-topic Simon.

    Report on 17 February 2014  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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