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HMRC warns of tax scams targeting university students

Press Release   •   Nov 17, 2018 00:01 GMT

University students are being targeted by scammers with fake tax refunds in an effort to steal money and personal details, warns HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The scammers are using seemingly legitimate university email addresses (for example ‘@uc.ac.uk’) in order to avoid detection. The tax authority has received thousands of fraud reports in just a few weeks from students at colleges across the UK.

This is the first time HMRC has seen a tax scam attack directly targeting university students in such high volumes.

Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mel Stride MP, said:

“HMRC will never inform you about tax refunds by email, text or voicemail. If you receive one of these messages it is a scam. Do not click on any links in these messages, and forward them to HMRC’s phishing email address.

“Although HMRC is cracking down hard on internet scams, criminals will stop at nothing to steal personal information. I’d encourage all students to become phishing aware - it could save you a lot of money.”

Director of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, said:

“Devious fraudsters will try every trick in the book to convince victims to hand over their personal information, often with devastating consequences. It is vital that students spot the signs of fraudulent emails to avoid falling victim by following HMRC’s advice.

“Together with HMRC, we work tirelessly to stop fraudsters in their tracks and to prevent unsuspecting members of the public from falling victim to fraud.”

HMRC is encouraging all universities to raise awareness of scams and many have already begun taking action to warn their students of the risks.

Often HMRC related email scams spoof the branding of GOV.UK and well known credit cards in attempt to look authentic. The recipient’s name and email address may be included several times within the email itself.

Fraudulent emails and texts will regularly include links which take students to websites where their information can be stolen. Between April and September this year, HMRC requested that 7,500 of these phishing sites be deactivated. This compares to around 5,200 requests during the same period in 2017.

Notes for Editors:

1.  Tax scams are targeting students at hundreds of universities. We are encouraging all students to be aware of the potential tax scams and specifically encourage the following universities to take action raising awareness now:

  • Aberdeen, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Imperial College London, King’s College London, Manchester Metropolitan, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth, Queen Mary (London), Queen’s (Belfast), Southampton, Sussex, University College London, Warwick.

2.  HMRC phishing advice:

  • recognise the signs - genuine organisations like banks and HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, password or bank details
  • stay safe - do not give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in emails you weren’t expecting
  • take action - forward suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk and texts to 60599
  • If you suffer financial loss, contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use its online fraud reporting tool
  • check GOV.UK for information on how to avoid and report scams and recognise genuine HMRC contact

3.  HMRC has brought in cutting edge technology to tackle cyber-crime and target fraudsters including:

  • blocking half a billion phishing emails since 2016 through the introduction of DMARC (Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance) controls across our estate
  • reducing reports of spoof HMRC-related texts by 90% through an innovative pilot.

4.  HMRC is working with the National Cyber Security Centre to further its work and extend the benefits beyond HMRC customers.

5.  Follow HMRC’s Press Office on Twitter @HMRCpressoffice

6.  HMRC’s Flickr channel www.flickr.com/hmrcgovuk

Issued by HM Revenue & Customs Press Office

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is the UK’s tax authority.

HMRC is responsible for making sure that the money is available to fund the UK’s public services and for helping families and individuals with targeted financial support.