Phishing is where a person or business is contacted by email, telephone or text message by someone posing as a legitimate institution who then gains access to their computer(s) with all that implies for theft and fraud. Phishing scams reported to the tax office have more than doubled, to a million a year. As these are only the ones that are reported, given the regularity that our clients receive false notifications we can be sure there are actually many, many more. According to The Guardian, total fraud due to scams (not just phishing) in the last year was £2.3 Billion. We recommend that if you are concerned about any email that purports to come from HMRC then do contact us: HMRC will NEVER contract you by email regarding a tax (re)payment).
While we accept that the primary responsibility for avoiding fraud lies with individuals, it’s not unreasonable, in our view, for government to do what it can to make people aware of the scammers’ activities. To that end, it was concerning to read of a Freedom of Information request by Telegraph Money which revealed that anti-fraud spending has been cut by 99% from £242,000 in 2020 to £3,000 for the year to date.
Furthermore, the Telegraph reported that, “The Financial Conduct Authority, the City watchdog, also cut its spending on warnings against online fraud. Its outlay on search engine adverts fell to £175,000 last year from £233,000 in 2019. It has spent just £49,000 so far in 2021.”
Equally concerning, “Agencies including the Payment Systems Regulator, which oversees money transfers in Britain, Action Fraud, the Financial Ombudsman, the Serious Fraud Office and the Competition & Markets Authority have allocated no money whatsoever to anti-scam advertising campaigns in recent years.”
All this at a time when the Office for National Statistics reported that the number of fraud offences rose to almost five million in the year to March. This was a near 25% rise a quarter compared with 2019.
According to the Telegraph, “HMRC declined to comment.” Why not? They are, correctly, all too keen to prevent tax avoidance fraud on the part of individuals and businesses, so why are the actions of scammers in defrauding the nation not given a higher priority?
Stewart McKinnon, Director, M&S Accountancy & Taxation