How to tell if an “HMRC” email is real or spam

A number of scams involve fraudulent emails purporting to be from HMRC, usually in an effort to trick you into providing bank details. Why does a recent tribunal case show that it’s not safe to simply ignore everything?



Spammers are getting ever more sophisticated in their efforts to trick you into revealing sensitive information. Their methods include bogus contact by email, phone, social media and text messages. The scams are usually easy to spot, but only if you are aware of a few key pieces of information, e.g. that HMRC will never use these types of communication to request financial information.



The problem is that HMRC is trying its best to modernise its service. This means that some of the communications may well be genuine, as one taxpayer recently found to his cost.

In B Smith v HMRC [2020] TC07510 the taxpayer, S, had ignored emails that he believed were spam from an HMRC email address. He deleted them without reading them. Unfortunately, the emails were in fact genuine and were requesting that he file a self-assessment return. He did not do so and racked up penalties of £1,300. S’s argument was that he had been told verbally that he did not need to file a return, and that he hadn’t received a valid notice to file one. The First-tier Tribunal disagreed and decided that a notice via the personal tax account had been issued. Despite some similarity with well-known spam emails, S as a reasonable taxpayer should have read them before deleting them. His appeal was dismissed.

The crucial message is that where you have given permission for paperless communications, you need to be alert to the differences between genuine electronic messages and spam. If you really are not sure whether something is genuine or not, the best advice is to check before you either a) delete it or b) just pay it.

The government has prepared examples of phishing emails which can be found here.

Or you could let us help you with your tax returns and then you do not need to worry about these at all.


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