Tax Scams in the Pandemic

A Freedom of Information request from the firm has revealed taxpayers reported 9,948 Covid-related scams to HMRC between January and June.

Activity peaked in May, with 5,048 incidents explicitly mentioning Covid, then proceeded to fall by over 55% to 2,495 in June.

The total number of all phishing scams reported to HMRC was 44,777 in January. This rose steadily month on month to a peak of 77,148 in June, an overall increase of 73%.

On average, two thirds (66%) of the scams reported to HMRC in the first half of 2020 offered the recipient some form of tax refund or rebate.

Mike Hodges, head of private wealth at Saffery Champness, said: ‘The scams themselves take all forms to take advantage of the current pandemic. Some offer the recipient a tax refund to help manage the financial pressures of the coronavirus, while others take the form of a bogus fine levied on the recipient for repeatedly leaving the house during the lockdown.

‘The marked decline in the number of coronavirus scams in June may reflect the efforts of HMRC and other government bodies to combat fraudulent activity, and should certainly not be interpreted as a deliberate ceasefire on the part of the scammers in their campaign to exploit the pandemic for financial gain.

‘While the number of reported scams which specifically referenced the coronavirus halved in June, the number of overall scams reported that month increased by more than a third, so the threat is far from over.’

HMRC has asked that any individual who receives an HMRC-related phishing email, text message or call report this at the following email address in order to assist investigations.

In March, HMRC’s advice on scams was updated to reflect the growing issue of coronavirus and the potential impact it could have on the nature and frequency of the scams which individuals may receive.

In 2013, HMRC was the 3rd most-phished brand globally, and had fallen to 14th in 2015. By 2019, HMRC was only the 146th most-phished brand.

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