HMRC is warning university students to be wary of potential scams, especially if they have a part-time job and are new to interacting with the tax office
University students taking part-time jobs are at increased risk of falling victim to scams, HMRC said.
By June this year, more than 680,000 students had applied to university, and over 900,000 held part-time jobs during the 2020 to 2021 academic year.
Higher numbers of students going to university this year means more young people may choose to take on part-time work. Being new to interacting with HMRC and unfamiliar with genuine contact from the department could make them vulnerable to scams.
In the past year almost one million people reported scams to HMRC.
Nearly half of all tax scams offer fake tax refunds, which HMRC does not offer by SMS or email. The criminals involved are usually trying to steal money or personal information to sell on to others. HMRC is a familiar brand, which scammers abuse to add credibility to their scams.
Links or files in emails or texts can also download dangerous software onto a computer or phone. This can then gather personal data or lock the recipient’s machine until they pay a ransom.
In the two-month period April to May this year, 18 to 24-year olds reported more than 5,000 phone scams to HMRC.
Mike Fell, head of cyber security operations at HMRC, said: ‘Most students won’t have paid tax before, and so could easily be duped by scam texts, emails or calls either offering a ‘refund’ or demanding unpaid tax.
‘Students, who will have had little or no interaction with the tax system might be tricked into clicking on links in such emails or texts.
‘Our advice is to be wary if you are contacted out of the blue by someone asking for money or personal information. We see high numbers of fraudsters contacting people claiming to be from HMRC. If in doubt, our advice is do not reply directly to anything suspicious, but contact HMRC through gov.uk straight away and search gov.uk for ‘HMRC scams’.’
In the last year (September 2020 to August 2021) HMRC has:
- responded to 998,485 referrals of suspicious contact from the public. Nearly 440,730 of these offered bogus tax rebates;
- worked with the telecoms industry and Ofcom to remove 2,020 phone numbers being used to commit HMRC-related phone scams;
- responded to 413,527 reports of phone scams in total, an increase of 92% on the previous year. In April last year we received reports of only 425 phone scams. In August 2021 this had risen to 3,269;
- reported 12,705 malicious web pages for takedown;
- detected 463 Covid-19 related financial scams since March 2020, most by text message; and
- asked internet service providers to take down 443 Covid-19 related scam web pages.