As self-assessment season commences, it’s crucial for taxpayers to remain vigilant against scammers impersonating the tax authority in order to steal personal details. In a recent development, a fraudster has been apprehended in a remote Indonesian village, 6,500 miles away from UK soil. While the mangrove forests of North Sumatra face the depletion of freshwater fish reserves due to the expansion of palm oil plantations, the focus shifted from fishing to phishing as authorities launched a manhunt to capture a prolific tax scammer.
Working in conjunction with the Indonesian National Police (INP), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Australian Federal Police (AFP), HMRC’s cybercrime team conducted an extensive investigation leading to the successful arrest of a 36-year-old male. This individual, who remains unnamed, now faces up to 12 years in prison for selling phishing kits to cybercriminals targeting UK taxpayers.
Phishing kits consist of software tools, including ready-made templates, scripts, or code, enabling scammers to create fake webpages that closely resemble legitimate sites. Unsuspecting victims are then tricked into visiting these deceptive websites, where they unknowingly disclose sensitive personal information and payment details, enabling fraudsters to defraud them.
The arrested perpetrator allegedly sold this hoaxing software to cybercriminals worldwide for up to $250 per kit. Social media platforms and crime forums were flooded with advertisements, meticulously replicating the websites of international organizations used by taxpayers in the UK, Canada, the USA, and Australia. Notable examples include HMRC, Royal Mail, TV licensing, and global banks.
Simon Grunwell, operational lead in HMRC’s fraud investigation service’s cybercrime team, emphasizes the organization’s commitment to protecting taxpayers from criminal attacks, be it from the other side of the world. Grunwell states, “This case should show to others involved in fraud that we can and will find you.”
The scale of tax scammers remains a significant concern. According to HMRC, they received over 130,000 reports of tax scams in the 12 months leading up to September 2023, with 58,000 of these reports related to bogus tax rebates. Fraudsters employ various communication channels, such as text messages, emails, phone calls, or WhatsApp messages, masquerading as HMRC to deceive or intimidate recipients into divulging personal information or transferring money.
It is crucial for taxpayers to stay alert and to be aware that scammers often pose as HMRC. Grunwell advises, “If someone contacts you saying they’re from HMRC and asks you to give personal information or urgently transfer money, be on your guard.” For reporting scams and assisting in combating these crimes, Grunwell recommends visiting the official GOV.UK website for HMRC scams advice.
Scammers have become increasingly sophisticated, skillfully imitating HMRC’s communication. Therefore, it is essential not to respond immediately if you or a client receives unexpected communication from the tax authority. Take the necessary time to evaluate its legitimacy.
To help taxpayers identify communication from tax scammers, HMRC provides a helpful checklist of signs to watch out for. As a general rule, always remember that HMRC will never send a genuine email, text message, or platform-based message, such as WhatsApp, regarding a tax rebate or requesting personal or payment information.
If you suspect that you’ve received a communication from a scammer, take appropriate action based on the medium used. Forward suspicious text messages to 60599, suspicious emails to email@example.com, and if possible, take a screenshot of suspicious messages within applications such as WhatsApp and email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Report phone calls that solicit personal information or threaten legal action by submitting an online report, and for letters, contact the HMRC team specified in the letter, such as the self-assessment team.
For detailed guidance and advice on avoiding and reporting internet scams and phishing attempts, visit HMRC’s dedicated webpage.
By staying informed and being cautious, taxpayers can help in the ongoing fight against Indonesian phishing and protect themselves from falling victim to tax scams. HMRC and its international partners remain committed to combating cybercrime and holding fraudsters accountable, regardless of their global location. If you have any concerns about fraudulent behaviour with your assets, get in touch with STS DSW today