The scam HMRC impersonation scam 

Volume 138% increase in Q1 2021 compared to Q1 2020 (Santander data).  

How the scam works  
1.    Fraudster contacts the customer through email, text, phone or WhatsApp claiming to be from HMRC, the police or a court. The contact details, such as the caller ID, can be easily made to appear genuine through number spoofing. 
2.    The fraudster claims that the customer owes the HMRC money and provides a link for the customer to complete their details and pay the money owing, in order to avoid further penalties such as a fine or even a custodial sentence. 
3.    In other instances, customers are told that they are due a tax rebate and HMRC requires their personal details in order to make payment.  
4.    In both instances, the fraudster will try and rush the customer to act immediately, and often uses fear to put pressure on the customer. 
5.    Once the customer has either shared their details or made the payment this can be the end of the scam. But some customers are then contacted again by the fraudster, but this time impersonating the customer’s bank’s fraud team, using the personal details that the customer previously shared. 
6.    They are informed that they have been the victim of an HMRC scam and advised that their account is compromised, and they need to transfer their money to a new ‘safe’ account, resulting in the customer losing even more money.

Chris Ainsley, Head of Fraud Control, Santander UK: 
“By taking on the persona of the HMRC, criminals are trying to intimidate their victims by impersonating an institution that most of us recognise and trust. With the February extension to the self-assessment deadline fast approaching, we expect to see a significant increase in HMRC scams over the coming weeks. Don’t let criminals get away with it. Always check with HMRC directly before acting.”

What to do

  • If you are contacted by HMRC unexpectedly or by anyone claiming you owe the HMRC money or are due a tax rebate - even if it appears genuine - stop and validate the request with HMRC directly via the GOV.UK website.
  • If you think you’ve already been the victim of an HMRC scam, report it to your bank straight away. 
  • If you are ever contacted by someone claiming to be from your bank after being targeted by an HMRC scam, hang up and call your bank back using the number on the back of your card or by dialling 159. 

How to protect yourself 

  • Never make a payment to HMRC if they contact you out of the blue, even if you're threatened with police or court action. Always check what you owe or are owed directly with HMRC on the GOV.UK website.
  • Never rely on the caller ID or email name as identification. These details can be easily falsified by fraudsters (known as spoofing) to appear as if they're from HMRC or any other organisation.
  • Never be pressurised into sharing personal or financial information with anyone.
  • A genuine bank or organisation will never contact you to ask you to move money to another account.
  • If ever in doubt, hang up and call your bank on the number on the back of your card or dial 159 if you think there’s a chance you’re being scammed. 

Santander case study  
Miss B received a missed a call from an unrecognised number, she googled the number and saw that it belonged to her local courthouse.  Later that day she received a second call from the same number and answered it, confident she knew that the caller was the courthouse. The caller confirmed they were calling from court and that they were chasing an outstanding HMRC debt and that she would need to make an urgent payment of £849 or risk being arrested. The caller insisted that she make the payment immediately, which she did. 

She then received a WhatsApp message from the same number asking her to send a copy of her passport and her driving licence to validate the payment, which she proceeded to do. However, at the point where she was told to provide her bank details, she became suspicious and contacted her bank directly, who advised her that she had fallen victim to a scam. 

- Ends -
The information contained in our press releases is intended solely for journalists and should not be used by consumers to make financial decisions. 

Notes to Editors:
Santander UK is a financial services provider in the UK that offers a wide range of personal and commercial financial products and services. At 31 December 2021, the bank had around 19,200 employees and serves around 14 million active customers, via a nationwide branch network, telephone, mobile and online banking. Santander UK is subject to the full supervision of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) in the UK. Santander UK plc customers’ eligible deposits are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) in the UK.

Banco Santander (SAN SM, STD US, BNC LN) is a leading retail and commercial bank, founded in 1857 and headquartered in Spain. It has a meaningful presence in 10 core markets in the Europe, North America and South America regions, and is one of the largest banks in the world by market capitalization. Its purpose is to help people and businesses prosper in a simple, personal and fair way. Santander is building a more responsible bank and has made a number of commitments to support this objective, including raising over €120 billion in green financing between 2019 and 2025, as well as financially empowering more than 10 million people over the same period. At the end of 2021, Banco Santander had €1.15 trillion in total funds, 153 million customers, of which 25.4 million are loyal and 47.4 million are digital, 9,900 branches and 197,000 employees.