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HMRC warns over tax email scams

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The Treasury has taken the unusual step of warning UK taxpayers of a phishing scam doing the rounds, which looks to ensnare frantic last-minute tax return filers.

Bogus email warnings designed to trick citizens into handing over sensitive personal details are circulating in the run-up to the 31 January Self Assessment tax deadline. The scam messages claim that recipients are entitled to a tax refund and ask for bank or credit card details so that the fictitious refund can be paid out. The emails come from spoofed email addresses so that they might appear to come from tax authorities.

HMRC is working with the authorities to take sites associated with the scam offline. Phishing sites hosted in Austria, Mexico, USA, Thailand and Japan have already been pulled down.

In addition, some fraudsters are going to the additional trouble of phoning up prospective marks, similarly posing as tax officials arranging rebate payments. Punters who fall for either variant of the scam risk having their bank accounts emptied or credit cards maxed out, HMRC warns.

HM Revenue & Customs warns that further scam emails along the same lines might be expected even after the deadline passes at the end of the month. Genuine tax officials will only contact people by letter, it adds.

"This is the most sophisticated and prolific phishing scam that we have encountered," said Lesley Strathie, HMRC Chief Executive, in a statement. "We only ever contact customers who are due a refund in writing by post. We never use emails, telephone calls or external companies in these circumstances.

"I would strongly encourage anyone receiving such an email to send it to us for investigation."

Since April 2008 HMRC has received over 11,000 reports of fraudulent repayment emails. HMRC's general advice on the issue can be found here.

Net security firm McAfee adds: "We have seen over 20 different HRMC phishing scams since October and six different examples since 2 January alone. It's a very topical phishing scam, as people are seeing TV adverts and receiving letters reminding them of the approaching deadline." ®

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