Chartered Tax Advisers & Accountants

Sometimes, HMRC isn’t what it appears to be…

Published On: 04 December 2017
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I got a scam email the other day.  It’s shown below.  On the face of it, this looks like it might be real.  The colours used, the tone, the language; they all seem plausible.  Then there is the promise of a rebate from HMRC, not too large so as to seem obviously a scam, but just a couple of hundred pounds, an amount that would make a nice difference, especially with Christmas coming up.

Fortunately, I use a piece of software that recognises spam/scam emails and which allows you to “train” your email system to recognise dodgy communications like this.  However, even without that, there are several giveaways in this email that ought to make anyone stop and think before clicking on the link (and thus probably exposing your computer, passwords and finances to fraud). 

For a start, even allowing for the decline in the standards of grammar, it’s unlikely that HMRC would let a standard email go out without an apostrophe in the word “years” in the first line.  If you are unsure about an email then read it through.  If it purports to be from an official body but it has typos and obvious grammatical howlers, it’s almost certainly fraudulent.

Secondly, there is no obvious contact address at the foot of the email.  In my experience, HMRC are so cautious that they include a footer (with the Royal Coat of Arms no less) saying that if you are unsure that the email is from them then you shouldn’t click on it but instead report it, as per the screenshot below:

Sadly, the government then doesn’t make it any easier for us.  I went to the “Avoid and report internet scams and phishing” page on the gov.uk website and there is a link to click where you can report scam emails.  Unfortunately, when I clicked it I got the message below and could not report the problem.  Not helpful is the kindest phrase I can think of at this point…

To return to my scam email, the real giveway is in the reply box.  I’m pretty sure that HMRC doesn’t use .ru domain names!  Often, you’ll see that the email address such scams come from looks correct, but on closer examination there will be some small detail wrong.  Check it, and if in doubt, don’t click on any links!

Finally, and most important of all, bear in mind that (as the M&S Accountancy and Taxation email signature states boldly):

 

I know this is stating the obvious, but it really does pay to be extremely careful even if something looks totally legitimate, and to use some sort of email monitoring software.  The software I use (SpamSieve – others are available) costs only about £30 a year.  With online fraud now the most common cause of crime in the UK it, literally, pays to be suspicious of even the most innocuous and genuine looking emails. 

Alastair Blair, thePotentMix