'HMRC' tax refund scams 2020: how to spot a fake refund email or text

Conmen are harassing the public with 'HMRC' tax refund scam emails and texts. Here's how to spot a fake tax rebate offer.

HMRC tax refund scams: what they look like

Brits are being bombarded with fake 'HMRC' tax scam emails and calls, with a staggering 900,000 reports sent to the taxman in the 2018/19 tax year alone.

The vast majority of these messages – 620,000 – were regarding fake tax refunds supposedly from HMRC, where scammers try and trick people into handing over details in order to claim a fake tax rebate.

While it's not uncommon for scammers to try their luck on the phone – you can listen to a recording of a typical conman's gambit here – you're far more likely to be informed of your fake tax refund by text or email.

You might wonder why someone could be fooled into believing they're owed a tax refund when it's normally automatically taken by HMRC out of their salary, but there are millions of self-employed Brits who file Self Assessment tax returns each year, making them the primary targets for refund scammers.

These tax scams are becoming increasingly slick and sophisticated – some even reference your Government Gateway Account – but there are a few obvious warning signs to help you spot it's fake.

The classics include pressure to act quickly, asking for personal details and dubious links.

Take a look at these examples of fake tax refund emails.

Tax scams: how to spot them

'Annual Tax Refund' scam

‚Äč What a fake tax refund scma looks like (Image: loveMONEY)

'New Tax Calculation' scams

What a fake tax refund scma looks like (Image: loveMONEY)

What a fake tax refund scma looks like (Image: loveMONEY)

Classic 'Tax Refund' scam

What a fake tax refund scma looks like (Image: loveMONEY)

These 'HMRC' scam emails often contain the taxman's logo and official-style reference numbers. However, the dodgy English should set alarm bells ringing, as should the rapid call to action.

Often, the email addresses appear genuine too, ending in 'hmrc.gov.uk', much like the one we've screengrabbed below:

What a fake tax refund scma looks like (Image: loveMONEY)

However, the second (real) address gives the game away.

Here are some of the reported email addresses used to distribute the tax rebate emails, according to HMRC:

  • reve.alert@hmrc.gov.uk
  • 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
  • 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 'HMRC' tax email is a fake

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

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.

HMRC tax scam warning (Image: HMRC)

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. 

Fake tax refunds: how to beat the scammers

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. To help you stay one step ahead of online fraudsters, have a look at our guide to common email scams and how to spot them

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