University students are being targeted by scammers sending them fake tax refund letters in an effort to steal money and personal details, HM Revenue and Customs warns.
The tax authority says it has received thousands of fraud reports in just a few weeks from students at colleges across the UK.
The scammers are using what appear to be genuine university email addresses such as @uc.ac.uk to avoid detection.
Like other similar scams, fraudsters are sending emails and texts telling the student about a tax refund. If a student clicks on the link and enters their personal and banking details fraudsters can then use this information to steal money from the victim.
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HMRC says this is the first time it has seen a tax scam attack directly targeting university students in such high volumes.
Financial secretary to the Treasury, Mel Stride MP, says: “HMRC will never inform you about tax refunds by email, text or voicemail. If you receive one of these messages it is a scam. Do not click on any links in these messages, and forward them to HMRC’s phishing email address.”
He adds: “Although HMRC is cracking down hard on internet scams, criminals will stop at nothing to steal personal information. I’d encourage all students to become phishing aware - it could save you a lot of money.”
Known as spoofing, there has been a surge in this type of scam in recent years.
As well as cold calling, fraudsters also leave voicemails and use text messages asking victims to call back on the number provided to trick them into giving away their personal information.
Often, HMRC-related email scams use the branding of GOV.UK and well-known credit cards in attempt to look authentic. The recipient’s name and email address may be included several times within the email itself.
Between April and September this year, HMRC requested that 7,500 of these phishing sites be deactivated. This compares to around 5,200 requests during the same period in 2017.
Director of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, says: “Devious fraudsters will try every trick in the book to convince victims to hand over their personal information, often with devastating consequences. It is vital that students spot the signs of fraudulent emails to avoid falling victim by following HMRC’s advice.”
She adds: “Together with HMRC, we work tirelessly to stop fraudsters in their tracks and to prevent unsuspecting members of the public from falling victim to fraud.”
HMRC is encouraging all universities to raise awareness of scams and many have already begun taking action to warn their students of the risks.
Students at 16 universities are believed to be at risk. These include: Aberdeen, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Imperial College London, King’s College London, Manchester Metropolitan, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth, Queen Mary (London), Queen’s (Belfast), Southampton, Sussex, University College London, Warwick.
What you can do to guard against the fraudsters
1) Recognise the signs - Genuine organisations, such as banks and HMRC, will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, password or bank details.
2) Stay safe - Do not give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in emails you weren’t expecting.
3) Take action - Forward suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to firstname.lastname@example.org and texts to 60599, or contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 to report any suspicious calls or use its online fraud reporting tool.
4) Check Gov.uk for information on how to avoid and report scams and recognise genuine HMRC contact.