Almost 10,000 Covid-19 scams reported to HMRC in the first half of 2020

28 Oct 2020

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The number of phishing scams reported to HMRC has climbed steadily month on month in H1 of 2020, increasing 73% in total since January. The number of Covid related scams reported to HMRC peaked in May, then proceeded to fall by over 55% in June.

According to new data obtained by top 20 accountancy firm Saffery Champness through a Freedom of Information request, taxpayers reported 9,948 Covid-related scams to HMRC in H1 of 2020.

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

In March, the advice on scams provided on the HMRC website 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.

The number of scams reported to HMRC which explicitly mentioned Covid-19 peaked in May with 5,048 incidents, after which the figure fell by more than 50% 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 H1 of 2020 offered the recipient some form of tax refund or rebate.

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.

Mike Hodges, Head of Private Wealth at Saffery Champness, comments:

“In the first six months of 2020, the Coronavirus brought unprecedented challenges to public health, to the healthcare system and to the state of the economy, yet what this data shows is that in the midst of these crises people face a further man-made threat in the form of unscrupulous individuals.

“The surge in the number of scams received by taxpayers since the onset of the crisis continues to threaten the security of peoples’ personal data and their financial wellbeing, at a time when households are already facing enormous strains on their finances.

“In the minds of those who perpetrate such scams, no issue or crisis is too grave that it does not present fertile ground for exploitation and profiteering, and Coronavirus has been no exception.

“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 common denominator is that they all seek to exploit peoples’ legitimate concerns and fears about the pandemic, as well as their desire to do their part in fighting the crisis by getting their taxes right.

“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.

“The range of Government relief programmes, such as the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, which were in full swing by the start of June, provided ample opportunity for scammers to camouflage bogus communications amongst genuine correspondence from HMRC. For as long as these relief programmes continue and taxpayers are required to liaise directly and regularly with HMRC, scams are sure to continue in one form or another.

“Always treat with extreme caution any unexpected text, email, or automated phone message claiming to be from HMRC, particularly those which offer a tax rebate or those which claim you have a fine to pay. Do not follow any links in messages and do not provide any personal information or login details until you are certain the communication is genuine. The Government website has guidance on how to identify genuine HMRC contact.”