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Don’t fall for tax rebate phishing scams, HMRC warns

Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs has had to issue warnings to any taxpayers that receive suspicious e-mails claiming they can gain access to tax rebates.

These e-mails, which are complete and total fabrications and are only sent in an attempt to trick hapless taxpayers into divulging their personal details, such as their bank account passwords, in a time-honoured scam called ‘phishing.’ The scam involves a victim being told that HMRC has a massive rebate for them and include a link in the e-mail which takes the victim to a login page that may look like the taxman’s website but is actually a well-constructed sham.

There were some 80,000 suspicious emails reported to HMRC last year, which led to more than 550 illegal phishing sites to be closed down. A large number of these phishing scams were set up outside British borders, as hackers from eastern and central Europe, the US, Japan, and Russia absolutely love trying to take advantage of well-meaning but particularly credulous Brits.

It used to be that you could spot a fake e-mail a mile away in years past, but now I’m afraid it’s getting harder and harder to differentiate between a message that is genuine from one that simply looks the part. This is because scammers and hackers have gotten better at disguising their phishing attempts, most notably through using proper grammar and punctuation in their e-mails but also through using fake web pages that can mimic a legitimate authority’s web page closely.

Still, I think that you need to be a bit thick to fall for one of these phishing attempts, especially when an offer of money is on the line. It’s true that the economy is bad and that any extra cash that comes your way is incredibly important, but you can’t go believing everything you read – otherwise you’re likely to be taken for a serious ride once you give over your personal details to some nefarious Russian hacking syndicate looking to take out a few credit cards in your name to finance their other activities.

It’s important to know that the taxman never sends out e-mails to anyone who is owed a tax rebate. In fact, Gareth Lloyd, HMRC’s head of digital security, went as far as to reinforce the taxman’s warning by making it clear that you’ll be receiving notification through the post if you’re owed money, so don’t fall for it if you’ve received one of these spurious e-mails.

You should absolutely delete any email you get from such a source, HMRC says. However, before you do so, make sure to forward the offending e-mail to the official e-mail address for the taxman’s anti-scam team at phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk.

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