HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has warned that criminals are once again sending out bogus requests to business owners pretending to be the taxman and has recently updated the department’s guidance on how to separate genuine from so-called ‘phishing’ emails.
The guidance provides information on the current list of digital and other contact issued from HMRC and how to tell if an email is fraudulent. It gives examples of the department’s Short Message Service (SMS) text messages and how to report HMRC-related phishing/bogus e-mails.
As far as VAT is concerned, the taxman will send business owners emails to remind them when their VAT return is due, if they have registered to receive such reminders. These e-mails are entitled ‘Reminder to file your VAT Return’.
Reminder emails will also be sent to those businesses that are overdue with VAT payments. However, the taxman will only use addresses that have been provided by traders and will recommend that outstanding payments be made online to avoid further action.
Those who have registered for VAT using HMRC online services will also receive emails from HMRC but none of these messages will ask for personal or financial information.
As HMRC points out, fraudsters often use e-mail addresses that are similar to, but not the same as, genuine ones and have e-mail accounts with HMRC or revenue names in them, such as ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’. They will also try to copy the ‘from’ address to look like a legitimate HMRC address, such as ‘@hmrc.gov.uk’.
The advice is that if the business owner is not completely certain that the message is from HMRC, they should not open it. They should also be wary of emails that ask for immediate action, such as ‘you only have three days to reply’ or ‘urgent action required’. In addition, false emails will often use a generic greeting such as ‘Dear Customer’, whereas mails from HMRC will always bear the name of the registered user.