HMRC fraudsters hit taxpayers with 1.5 MILLION phishing scams

Fraudsters have targeted UK taxpayers with a total of 1,524,449 fake emails, calls and text messages purporting to be from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) over the last two years, according to official figures. Chris Ross, SVP at Barracuda Networks warns of the cyber risk posed to individuals and businesses.

by Patrick Sullivan, Political Editor on 2 March 2020 08:13

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Fraudsters have targeted UK taxpayers with a total of 1,524,449 phishing emails, calls and text messages purporting to be from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) over the last two years, according to official figures.

The data reveals the staggering number of suspected fake correspondence reported to HMRC’s official complaints email for phishing scams -phishing@hmrc.gov.uk - by members of the public in 2019 and 2018.

In total, over 254,258 suspected phone scams were reported to HMRC over the period. The data showed a sharp rise from 58,538 reports in 2018 with the number trebling to 195,720 last year.

Interestingly, the data saw that attempted email scams had dropped from 841,805 to 333,857 – a 60 per cent decrease, but still a substantial figure. The data revealed that there we 94,529 SMS text message phishing scams during the two-year period.

Reports in this area rose sharply by 56 per cent, from 36,950 in 2018 to 57,579 in 2019. This suggests that either taxpayers are becoming more aware of threat of email scams, email filtration systems and cyber defence software have improved, or that cyber criminals have spotted a trend of success in phone scams.

Phishing scams involve the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.

This is somewhat concerning for the millions of taxpayers across the UK, some of whom will be, or already have been, victims of fraud. The data showed that fake correspondence from HMRC affects all areas of the country.

In Wakefield, citizens were recently alerted by West Yorkshire Police and Action Fraud after multiple reports of a scam involving a recorded telephone message claiming to be from HMRC, and demanding private information under threat of arrest.

In East Lothian, citizens were recently alerted by HMRC after multiple reports of a scam involving a recorded telephone message claiming to be from HMRC, and demanding private information under threat of arrest. Students particularly have been the target of scammers who claim to be from HMRC with fake offers of tax refunds.

As a result, HMRC recently issued a warning to the public. Heavily targeted Universities include Cambridge, Heriot Watt, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, St Andrews, Plymouth and Wolverhampton.

Chris Ross, SVP, Barracuda Networks told The Commentator: “It’s no surprise that cyber criminals see impersonating HMRC through fraudulent phishing schemes as an easy route to securing cash pay-outs from unsuspecting victims. What’s most disturbing about these figures is the sophisticated multi-channel approach being used across calls, texts and emails to dupe individuals into assuming these interactions are a legitimate communication from the taxman. Moving forward, it’s vital that there is much more public awareness about how advanced and prevalent these phishing schemes have become.

Ross continued, "It’s also important to recognise the lengths these criminals will go to trick entrepreneurs, finance workers and vulnerable or elderly people into handing over PIN codes or transferring money to false accounts. Businesses that fail to implement the necessary cyber security solutions and properly train staff to identify and report malicious email communications will end up paying a heavy price.”

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