How to spot a fake HMRC letter

Crime is increasingly hard to detect. As the internet opened up more scamming opportunities, we’ve begun to see better attempts to forge the HMRC name in order to take your money. Taxpayers are at risk of being duped by fake correspondence – and this includes the traditional print message. So, how can you spot a fake HMRC letter?

A little knowledge can make all the difference in spotting a scam or falling victim to it. Here, we’re going to tell you what to be aware of when checking for bogus HMRC communications in the mail.

Resist any urge to ‘act now’

Letters are popular because they are a genuine means of contact used by the Revenue and Customs office. Emails and text messages will never ask for payment; mailed requests do. That’s why scammers like to use this method to direct payments to their personal account under the guise of claiming a certain amount of tax is owed.

But you should bear in mind that HMRC are rarely committed to ‘immediate payment’, especially with their first request on a tax issue. Official letters will give a number to call to discuss the matter further, or a deadline that gives you time to consider what’s being said.

LOOK FOR INCORRECT PHYSICAL OR EMAIL ADDRESSES

Some letters will include formatting and visual elements that seem legit. HMRC’s logo, registered trademarks, a reference to some obscure tax law that you weren’t aware of… All of this can be part of the fraud attempt.

Addresses, however, are another matter. HMRC’s contact details can be found online from the GOV.UK website. If the office address doesn’t match up, the communication isn’t real. That’s how to spot a fake HMRC letter.

They’ve also published a list of fake email accounts that crop up again and again. Do yourself a favour and cross-check every point of reference. For specific advice on phishing attempts via email, head to our blog on the subject.

BE WARY OF PAYMENT METHODS

From the outset, any requirement to ‘send us your bank details’ is a red flag. HMRC keeps your professional sort code and bank account in its database. When there’s a supposed data loss in the body of the letter, or even the demand to open a new account because they can’t process a refund, you have cause for doubt.

Again, it’s wise to see what HMRC’s bank details are, just to confirm whether you’re being contacted by the right people. They have a couple of verified bank accounts – anything else is likely to be a hoax if direct payment is mentioned. Don’t just pay immediately for the sake of it. The same may apply to overseas tax accounts for businesses that earn money from the UK; nothing is exempt from the threat of fraud.

Knowing what’s out there is the surest step to winning the fight against crime. How to spot a fake HMRC letter? Stay smart and you’ll stay safe – that’s a rule we can all live by. Letters aren’t always what they purport to be, and you’ll avoid a nasty surprise if you remain vigilant.

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Last updated on 22nd October 201c

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