HMRC urges universities to warn new students of tax scams danger

Students starting university this year are being warned by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) that they could be targeted by a fresh wave of tax scams.

As new students start the academic year, they can be particularly vulnerable to cybercrime. With universities taking a blended approach to online and face-to-face tuition this year, and an increase in remote working due to the pandemic, students could be left particularly exposed to the work of fraudsters.

Freshers might also be more vulnerable to these types of scams due to their limited experience of the tax system.

HMRC has written to universities, through Universities UK, asking them to help ensure their students know how to spot a scam.

In August this year HMRC received reports from the public of more than 74,800 scam emails, text messages and phone calls. Nearly 41,300 of these specifically offered bogus tax rebates.

Thousands of these scams were targeted at students and the criminals involved appear to have obtained their personal university email addresses by unlawful means. These scams often offer fake tax refunds or help with claiming Covid-related financial support.

Phishing email messages can also provide a gateway for criminals. Students who provide personal details in response can end up inadvertently giving access to important accounts, like email or online banking, leaving scammers free to commit fraud and steal their money.

Criminals also use phone scams to threaten taxpayers into handing over cash. Some 651,600 scams have been referred to HMRC since August last year. Of those, more than 215,660 were voice or phone scams, known as vishing.

If someone calls, emails or texts claiming to be from HMRC, saying that you can claim financial help, are due a tax refund or owe tax, and asks for bank details, it might be a scam. Check GOV.UK for how to recognise genuine HMRC contact.

HMRC’s advice:

  • Stop: take a moment to think before parting with your information or money. Don’t give out private information or reply to text messages, and don’t download attachments or click on links in texts or emails you weren’t expecting.
  • Challenge: it’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests – only criminals will try to rush or panic you. Search ‘scams’ on GOV.UK for information on how to recognise genuine HMRC contact and how to avoid and report scams.
  • Protect: forward suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk and texts to 60599. Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam, and report it to Action Fraud.

Remember, if you have been a victim of fraud or cyber crime, report it to Action Fraud online at www.actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.

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