Ivan Woolgrove

Written by: Ivan Woolgrove

Ivan Woolgrove

Associate Director, Corporate Tax

How do you tell whether a letter from HMRC is genuine or a scam?

A letter from HM Revenue & Customs telling taxpayers they owe money which must be paid immediately has recently been doing the rounds on LinkedIn. 

Commentators are warning taxpayers to be careful, as the letter in question appears to be a genuine HMRC letter but is believed by some to be fake. It includes a relatively small amount of tax due and is not threatening as to the consequences if the taxpayer cannot pay. Instead, the letter refers to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and wanting to work with the taxpayer to find an affordable way of paying what they owe.

The telephone number in particular has caused concern, as it has been previously linked with a scam impersonating HMRC. Confusingly, a quick phone number search on ‘who called me?’ revealed that many recognise this to be a genuine HMRC telephone number.

Given the conflicting information, and the importance that taxpayers neither inadvertently give personal information to criminals nor ignore genuine HMRC correspondence, we referred the letter to HMRC who confirmed the letter is not a scam but is in fact a genuine contact from them.

Two questions arise from this.

What more should the authorities be doing? 

Whilst the gov.uk site provides limited guidance to help taxpayers, we believe more is needed. Where HMRC becomes aware of fake phone numbers or websites being used, it should work quickly with the appropriate bodies to close them down. Also, the gov.uk site should have a permanently up to date list of verifiable phone numbers for taxpayers to search.

What should you do if you receive a letter saying you owe HMRC money?

If you have an agent, contact them. If you look after your own tax affairs, do you recognise the amount referred to in the letter as being due? Check any references given in the letter. Are they yours? Is the formatting of the reference the same as is usually used by HMRC? Can you verify the phone number given in the letter?

Unfortunately, in these times you cannot believe everything you read online, but then equally you shouldn’t just ignore something that comes from Government authorities. Carrying out what checks you can and independently approaching the authorities could save a lot of pain. 

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