Scam warning: fraudsters have been sending out fake emails pretending to be from HMRC and the government - how to spot them

Tuesday, 21st April 2020, 11:57 am
Updated Tuesday, 21st April 2020, 11:58 am

An email phishing scam is using the coronavirus pandemic to con people out of hundreds of pounds, Action Fraud has confirmed.

Fraudsters have sent at least 23 fake emails which claim to be from HMRC and several more pretending to be from the official government website.

The emails claim to help those who are struggling financially due to the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown measures.

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What do the false HRMC emails say?

The emails, claiming to be from HMRC, state that the recipient is eligible for a tax refund of up to £775.80.

It goes on to claim that this money can be accessed once the recipient has replied to the email attaching proof of their identity, such as a copy of their passport or a recent utility bill, along with their home address.

Such emails were sent between Saturday, April 11 and Tuesday, April 14, according to the fraud reporting agency, Action Fraud.

What do the false gov.uk emails say?

Other emails mimicking communications from the official government website, www.gov.uk, were sent between Wednesday, April 8 and Thursday, April 16.

The emails claimed the recipient could receive a reduction to and a refund for their council tax payments.

The email also contained a link to a webpage which claimed to process the supposed refund by a bank transfer, once the individual had entered their personal bank details.

How can I avoid these types of phishing scams?

Do not open any emails or text messages which you are not expecting to receive - especially those claiming to be from government bodies - claiming to give you a refund or offering you reduced tax rates.

If you do open these by accident, you should not click on any attachments or web links inside such emails.

To be sure the information in the email is genuine, you should research the topic on the official government website - www.gov.uk - by searching for it in your web browser.

Alternatively, you can visit the government’s dedicated webpage for further advice on how to avoid these phishing scams.

What other scams should I be wary of?

The scam emails come after several fake government texts circulated at the end of March, following official government texts, which were sent to the nation to confirm the government’s lockdown measures.

These texts claimed to issue fines of £250 to their recipients, for leaving the house too frequently during lockdown.

Action Fraud has said it has received a number of reports about similar scam communications from government bodies, covering a range of topics such as universal credit and one-off payments of "COVID relief".

What should I do if I fell for the hoax?

If you think you have been a victim of this scam, you can report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or by visiting their website.

Those living in Scotland can report a fraud directly to Police Scotland, by calling 101.

What is being done to stop these scams?

Detective Chief Inspector Gary Robinson said: “Working closely with the banks and mobile phone companies, we are successfully cracking down on the criminals using the COVID-19 outbreak to defraud vulnerable members of the public.

“This sends a clear message to those callously seeking to exploit this national crisis to commit fraud: we will track you down and bring you to justice.”