Email Tax Scam Targets Small Firms

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Small businesses have been warned not to be taken in by a fake email purporting to be from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) promising a tax refund in exchange for bank details.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) has issued the caution after a number of businesses were taken in by the ‘phishing’ attack and gave out credit card or bank details.

The head of the ICAEW’s tax faculty, Frank Haskew said:

“Alarm bells should ring when you are asked to submit your credit card details – this is information you should not give out to anybody. HMRC never asks for this information but fraudsters are becoming increasingly savvy and the ‘tax refund’ document looks very convincing at first glance.

“As people are getting ready for the summer holidays, they want to tick off as many tasks as possible and might not read the email properly,” he added.

Although details of the scam are listed on the HMRC website, businesses are still being tricked into responding.

“This email is a sophisticated attempt at Internet fraud,” said an HMRC spokesman, “and it’s very important anyone receiving it does not reply or provide any personal details whatsoever”.

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“We have an address on our website to which such attempted frauds should be reported. We are liaising closely with those agencies working to close down and prosecute those behind these scams.”

According to security firm Trend Micro, around half of the UK’s small businesses have been targeted by phishing attacks in the past year. Attempts to defraud businesses are now so common that fraud protection agency Equifax has published a fraud guide for small firms.

The guide lists various kinds of fraud to watch out for and offers a 12–point checklist to reduce the risk of falling victim to online fraud, which includes:

  • Identify business partners and directors
  • Never accept hand written order forms or faxes
  • Confirm the trading address of customers and suppliers
  • Don’t assume information provided is correct – always double check and follow up references
  • Check for any connections to previous companies with similar or identical names.

To obtain a free pdf of the Equifax Pocket Guide to Combating ID Theft and Fraud, call 0845 603 3000, and select option 1.

If you think you have received a fraudulent email, HMRC advises you not to follow any links in the email, disclose any details or respond to it – but rather forward the email to HMRC at phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk.

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