New figures show that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) requested a record 20,750 malicious sites to be taken down in the past 12 months, an increase of 29% on the previous year.
Despite a record number of malicious sites being removed, HMRC is warning the public to stay alert as millions of taxpayers remain at risk of losing substantial amounts of money to online crooks. The warning comes as Scam Awareness month, run by Citizens Advice, draws to a close.
HMRC has brought in cutting edge technology to tackle cyber-crime and target fraudsters. However, the public needs to be aware and report phishing attempts to truly defeat the criminals.
Genuine organisations like banks and HMRC will never contact people out of the blue to ask for their PIN, password or bank details.
Accordingly, people should never give out private information, download attachments, or click on links in emails and messages they weren't expecting.
The most common type of scam is the 'tax refund' email and SMS. HMRC has confirmed that it does not offer tax refunds by text message or by email.
HMRC has also been trialling new technology which identifies phishing texts with 'tags' that suggest they are from HMRC and stops them from being delivered. Since the pilot began in April 2017, there has been a 90% reduction in people reporting spoof HMRC-related texts. This innovative approach netted the cyber security team with the Cyber Resilience Innovation of the Year Award in the Digital Leaders (DL100) Awards.
In November 2016, the department implemented a verification system, called DMARC, which allows emails to be verified to ensure they come from a genuine source. The system has successfully stopped half a billion phishing emails reaching customers. This initiative has saved the public more than £2.4 million by tackling fraudsters that trick the public into using premium rate phone numbers for services that HMRC provide for free. Scammers create websites that look similar to HMRC's official site and then direct the public to call numbers with extortionate costs.
HMRC has successfully challenged the ownership of these websites, masquerading as official websites, and taken them out of the hands of cheats. HMRC is working with the National Cyber Security Centre to further this work and extend the benefits beyond HMRC customers.
Readers of this post who are concerned by any emails or text they have received should contact HMRC by phone to check and see that they are genuine. Clients in receipt of similar communications should contact us before responding.