Q. A colleague has recently received an email advising him that he is due a tax refund. This came as a surprise and rang alarm bells! Do the tax authorities issue emails inviting taxpayers to claim refunds and what can my colleague do to check on the validity of the email?

A. H M Revenue & Customs (HMRC) continue to warn taxpayers, both individuals and businesses, to be on their guard against fraudsters. Typically, they will send messages which tell the recipient they are due a tax refund and ask for bank or credit card details so that the fictitious tax refund can be issued. Taxpayers who respond and provide their details risk their accounts being emptied and credit cards being used to their limit.

Since April 2008, HMRC has received over 100,000 reports of fraudulent repayment emails. HMRC have commented that “this is the most sophisticated and prolific phishing scam that we have encountered.”

An example of just one of the many scam e-mails being circulated is shown below.

Some of the many email addresses used to distribute the tax rebate emails include: refunds@hmrc.gov.uk, info@hmrc.gov.uk, attached.form@hmrc., attached.gov.uk, service@hmrc.gov.uk, hmrcrefunds@hmrc.gov.uk and refundsdept@ir-efile.gov.uk

HMRC have also warned of a growing number of telephone scams with fraudsters posing as tax officials arranging rebate payments. Examples have existed where customers are contacted by someone pretending to be from HMRC, claiming that a rebate of tax was due and requesting payment details to make the payment.

HMRC state “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.”

The tax authorities are continuing to work alongside authorities in Austria, Mexico, USA, Thailand and Japan to try and stamp out the fraud.

Tax officials are asking taxpayers who receive phishing emails to report them immediately and forward it to HM Revenue & Customs for investigation at phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk. They should then delete it from their computer/email account.

Customers should refrain from opening any attachments or clicking on website links. If in doubt, taxpayers should visit the HMRC at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/security/fraud-attempts.htm.

Taxwise is available to help answer any tax queries. Just call the Advice Service on 01455 852555 and one of our specialists will be happy to help.