How to tell if HMRC messages are genuine

When you enter into a discussion with HMRC, it’s only natural you would expect total privacy. Any discussion or correspondence with the government is carried out with the utmost care. However, while the government does a lot to ensure communications are safe, it’s easy to find yourself dealing with someone posing to be HMRC.

With the pace of modern technology meaning scams can be more believable than ever, HMRC recently updated their official guidelines. If you want to fully verify any potential HMRC message, check out the January 2019 publication on genuine HMRC contact procedures. This list is an updated group of the reasons why HMRC might contact you, and what each request might entail.

Ways HMRC might try to contact you

There are many reasons why HMRC might choose to get in touch with you at present. For example, you might presume that a letter from the HMRC Debt Enforcement ADT with the title ‘Immediate Action Required – Please Pay’ is not genuine. These, though, are. As ever, you should verify this with an official HMRC number obtained from the GOV.UK website. 

Most of the time, HMRC contact will be through SMS text message, voice message, phone call, direct mail, or e-mail. There are many reasons why HRMC might wish to contact you.

You could, for example, receive updates from HMRC via SMS text message. This would require you to set up what is known as 2-step verification, which means providing a one-time, on-demand access code to gain access to the account.

This message will never ask for you to provide any information in response. You need only provide the access code that is sent to you via SMS. If you ever receive an HMRC SMS asking for information, it is very unlikely – if at all – to be from an official source.

At present, HMRC is undergoing a series of SMS and voice message correspondence if details appear to differ from employer records. You might receive a message from HMRC about the need to renew tax credits or similar. This text message will only ask you to visit the GOV.UK website: it will never ask for you to provide details via SMS message.

This principle is the same for any HMRC correspondence which comes through via e-mail, direct mail or a phone call. HMRC may try to contact you via any available means you have provided – phone, e-mail, direct mail – but they will never ask for identifiable details in this manner.

What kinds of HMRC messages could be fraudulent?

  • As mentioned above, any form of HMRC message which arrives asking for personal details is likely to be from an illicit source.

  • Any message or contact which asks you to check out any government website that is not part of the GOV.UK network.

  • HMRC carry out various online surveys, such as the Basic PAYE Tools survey presently underway. No survey ever asks for any personal or financial information.

  • Any government phone call or correspondence where the identity of the employee cannot be identified. Ask any HMRC employee you are unsure of to send you an e-mail mid-correspondence.

  • Typically, any HMRC employee should carry an e-mail address which includes their first name and the suffix @hmrc.gsi.gov.uk.

  • An HMRC message or phone call which asks for anything other than your Unique Tax Reference, Employer Reference or VAT Registration Number.

Keep in mind that the government sends out various forms of correspondence. Many of these could be easy to mimic. Refer to the above page to help make sure you don’t respond to a potentially sinister or harmful message.

How to deal with a potentially fraudulent HMRC message

First off, you should look to inform HMRC as soon as possible. Any potential form of contact, website or information source should be investigated. If you are unsure about any HMRC or government source, then you should report it to HMRC as soon as possible.

The best way to protect yourself with HMRC correspondence is to never take direct action. Don’t click on any links within an e-mail, or provide any details over the phone. Do not look to respond to any SMS messages or forms of contact which seem out of the ordinary. If you are unsure about providing any kind of information, then don’t.

Any legitimate HMRC employee will understand your reticence. Take caution with any information that you provide. Only when you can receive full guarantee and confirmation of the identity of the employee should you consider divulging any details.

Of course, if you are ever unsure about an HMRC message then you should use the same page as above. Through official HMRC channels, you can confirm quickly with a verified employee about any information required. It’s always better to be vigilant with HMRC correspondence: never give away details you feel are out of context with the request.

If you are unsure, contact the government. It’s the only way to help ensure you do not fall foul of any scams or phishing attempts.

Nick Bagga