The number of criminals pretending to represent HMRC and attempt to gain personal information are on the rise, and contractors should be vigilant and aware of potentials scams.

The problem has been highlighted by the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) after a growing number of reports of phishing scams involving e-mails, texts, letter, phone calls or faxes from criminals who claim they represent HMRC.

Many of these communications bear very similar aesthetics to genuine HMRC correspondences, and it would be easy for a contractor to treat a false document or message as genuine.

Yvette Nunn, co-chair of ATT’s Technical Steering Group, advises: “It is important to remember that HMRC will never inform you of a refund or penalty, or ask for personal information by text or email. Tell-tale signs of a phishing attempt include sloppy spelling and grammar, using non-specific forms of address such as ‘Dear Customer’ and stressing the need for urgent action. If in doubt, do not open any suspicious emails or texts. If you do open them do not click on any links, open attachments or provide any personal information.”

ATT helpfully shared a list of expected communications from HMRC up to the end of 2017. These include letters inviting households to participate in the annual HMRC Customer Survey, which started to be sent out in August. This survey would see a contractor contacted by a company called Kantar Public, who will not ask for personal or financial information.

Kantar Public may also contact businesses and contractors about participation in a survey about their dealings with HMRC from September to November. Again, no personal or financial information will be asked for.

Finally, HMRC and Ipsos MORI will be sending a joint letter to randomly selected individuals inviting them to take part in research on saving and the Help to Save scheme. Set to be sent out between August and October, the bona fide letter does not request any personal, payment, or tax related information.

Therefore if you receive any communication feigning to be related to the above, but asking for information you deem to be personal or financial in nature, be extra careful and carry out a proper investigation into the genuineness of the documents or calls you receive.

“If you want to check whether a communication is genuinely from HMRC you should contact them directly, as you would normally, rather than on any numbers provided,” Nunn adds.  “HMRC also publish up to date lists of their official communications and examples of known phishing attempts on their website which you can consult. It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to phishing.”