Recent warnings from HMRC that fraudsters are targeting self assessment taxpayers with bogus offers of tax refunds have served as a useful reminder to stay vigilant for scams.
Being targeted by fraudsters can be distressing, while sorting out the damage done can be time-consuming, as well as taking a toll on finances. Here, we highlight the steps necessary for protection against fraud and scams.
HMRC recently warned people to be wary of bogus tax refund offers following the self assessment deadline on 31 January.
HMRC warns that taxpayers who completed their tax return for the 2022/23 tax year by the 31 January deadline might be taken in by an email, phone call or text message offering a tax rebate.
These phishing scams are designed to use personal details for selling on to criminals, or to access people's bank accounts, says HMRC.
The warning comes after HMRC responded to 207,800 referrals from the public of suspicious contact in the past year to January. This is a 14% increase from the 181,873 reported for the previous 12 months. More than 79,000 of those referrals offered bogus tax rebates.
Too good to be true
Self assessment is just one of the areas where scammers will attack savings and finances.
They use tactics like phishing emails and fake ads in order to encourage people to handover their personal information over the phone or by registering on a bogus website.
If you see an offer that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always check the brand’s official website or social media channels to verify whether an offer is authentic.
Devastating pension savers
Pension savers have long been a target of scammers. Pension scams often include free pension reviews, ‘too good to be true’ investment opportunities and offers to help release money from your pension, even for under 55s, which is not permitted under the pension freedom rules.
Pension fraud can have a devastating impact, both financially and emotionally, but anyone can fall victim to a fraud if they are not careful.
Protecting your pension
Although a ban on cold calling in the UK, including emails and texts, was introduced at the beginning of 2019, the problem continues. Cold calls are a major red flag for scams and unsolicited offers should be ignored or rejected. Cold callers will often offer a free pension review. Professional advice on pensions is not free – an unexpected free offer is probably a scam.
It is crucial that pension savers know who they are dealing with so checking the FCA Register is imperative. Dealing with an authorised firm gives access to the Financial Ombudsman Service or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), which can hold firms to account and give financial protection.
Pension savers should never allow themselves to be rushed or pressured into making a decision. They should not be afraid to miss out on an ‘amazing deal’ because of artificial deadlines, and if promised returns sound too good to be true, they probably are.
Impartial information, financial guidance and advice are all key to making a good decision before changing pension arrangements.
Protecting personal information
The key to protection from the scam is by keeping the lid tightly sealed on all personal information. If lost, personal information can be used to fraudulently apply for loans, goods or services. It can also be used to take over or using an existing product, not necessarily just open new ones.
This means safeguarding sign-on credentials and passwords for online banking, retailers and other websites that may store financial information. Password managers can be a great way of creating strong passwords and keeping track of them.
Also, when looking for websites make sure the URL is correct and that it has https at the start, or a little padlock – these mean it should be secure.
It is also prudent to keep settings on the highest privacy level on all social media accounts.
Although most identity theft happens online it is still important to be careful with letters and other documents. Bills, statements and invoices often have names, addresses and account details on them. It is good practice to shred any document with your personal details on it rather than risk someone finding it in the bin or on a landfill site.
Watch out for red flags
According to the Information Commissioner’s Office, there are a number of red flags that will alert you to someone else using your identity. If bank statements dry up, you start to receive letters or demands for debts that aren’t yours or you are turned down for financial products such as credit cards or a loan, despite having a good rating, these could all be red flags.
Report any suspicious activity on your account – even if you are not certain it is the result of fraud – to your bank, to Action Fraud and Cifas.
Everyone is a potential target for fraudsters and scammers, so always check before you respond to messages, even if they appear genuine at first sight. Be careful to protect your personal details. If in any doubt, please do get in touch.