HMRC warns universities to protect students from tax scams

scam alert

New students starting university this year could be targeted by a fresh wave of tax scams.

 

HMRC has written to UK universities advising them to warn first-year students about tax scams sent by fraudsters to steal students' money and personal details. 

 

Over 62,000 tax-related email scams were reported to HMRC last year. This figure is up by 20,000 on the previous year - including thousands of reports the department received about scam emails targeting students. 

 

As with the general public and businesses, fraudsters are likely to use a range of methods to target students, most commonly by sending fake tax returns using seemingly legitimate university email addresses (often ending in ac.uk) in order to avoid detection. 

 

Criminals could obtain a range of valuable information from students and could steal money and set up direct debits, make purchases for valuable goods online or even take control of computers and webcams. 

 

Cyber criminals use every means they can to steal money and personal data from students. Students and their families need to be vigilant, especially amid the stresses and strains of going to university. 

 

The letters to universities were sent out to HMRC's head of cyber security, and call on colleges to raise awareness of tax-related scams at the start of the academic year and to integrate scam advice into guidance for new students if they do not already do this.

 

HMRC advised university leaders that students are more likely to fall for tax scams because students may have had little or no interaction with the tax system. This could make the offer of a tax refund from a scammer seem attractive, especially when living on a budget. 

 

If students receive an email offering money to be sent to them by someone claiming to be HMRC, they should report it to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk

 

HMRC related email scams often imitate the branding of gov.uk and other well known organisations in an attempt to look authentic. The recipient's name and email address may be included several times within the email itself. It is important to check the email addresses carefully as these are frequently personalised emails in an attempt to look official, using the prefix ac.uk. 

 

As well as email scams, phone scams are also being used by cyber criminals in an attempt to threaten taxpayers in to handing over cash. HMRC had over 100,000 reports of phone scams last year, compared to 400 in 2016. HMRC has since introduced defensive controls with Ofcom and mobile networks to try to reduce these scams.