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Markel Tax

26 Apr 2021

Be aware: How to spot scam HMRC calls

The other day one of our team received a phone call claiming to be from HMRC informing them of a tax fraud case registered in their name.  The message being that if they did not press option 1 to speak to the caseworker, they could be arrested.

Fortunately, our consultant used to work on the HMRC team that deals with tax fraud cases and knew enough to know that this was not the case.  This was simply another example of the latest in a long line of scams that are carried out by fraudsters pretending to represent HMRC.

Unfortunately, other recipients of these scam calls may be more vulnerable and concerned, and may be encouraged to make a payment in order to resolve the alleged HMRC liabilty.  Sadly, the reality is that there are a number of individuals who fall victim to this and other similar scams every year.

How do you know whether an approach from HMRC is genuine?

HMRC have published a number of examples of the various scams they are aware of in addition to the above, which include the following:

  • There is currently a phishing campaign telling individuals that they can claim for the third grant as support during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. HMRC have advised not to reply to the email or to open any of the links included.

  • There is a text scam which includes the phrase ‘Due to the new lockdown support plan’, as well as various other text scams which refer to ‘Covid-19 refund’.  Again, HMRC have advised not to click on the links included within these messages, or to reply to them.

HMRC have also made it very clear that:

  1. They will never send notification by email regarding tax rebates or refunds

  2. They will never ask for personal or financial information if they make contact by text message

  3. They will never make any contact via WhatsApp

Jim Harra, chief executive and first permanent secretary of HMRC, has recently commented on this matter stating “We are aware of recent increases in scam phone calls, emails and texts. If someone contacts you claiming to be from HMRC saying that you owe tax and face arrest, are due a tax refund, that your National Insurance number has been compromised, or asking you to transfer money, or for bank or other personal details, it might be a scam.

In pursuit of any legitimate liability, HMRC will issue computer-generated demands through the post in the first instance to advise of the debt owed.  Any out of the blue contact is unlikely to be genuine and should be treated with caution to avoid being taken in by any potential scam.

In addition to the above comments, if HMRC do genuinely suspect an individual of tax fraud, they will issue a letter explaining that they have begun an investigation under Code of Practice 8 or 9 if this is pursued using civil investigation powers. 

However, where HMRC consider it to be more appropriate, and decide to utilise their criminal investigation powers, an unexpected knock at the door will be the action taken.

What you should do when you receive an approach from HMRC which you do not believe is genuine

If there are any concerns about an approach that appears to be part of a scam, the following proactive action can be taken:

  • Forward any suspicious text messages to HMRC’s phishing team on 60599

  • Take a screenshot of any messages received via WhatsApp and send them via email to

  • Forward any suspicious emails to the same email address detailed above

  • Send an email to HMRC detailing the time, date, and telephone number of any suspicious phone calls

This should lead to HMRC taking the necessary action against those involved making it more difficult for them to operate. In addition, this will reduce the risk of more individuals being targeted by one of these scams.

What are HMRC actually doing to combat fraudulent repayment claims?

Due to an increase in fraudulent repayment claims being made, HMRC have begun to issue letters asking individuals to verify repayment claims made through their income tax Self-Assessment returns.

We can confirm that these letters are genuine and are known as SURF1 and SURF2 letters.

If HMRC identify a repayment claim that gives them some concern, they will contact individuals in two stages in order to firstly verify their identity and then to answer some questions about the claim they have made. HMRC recognise that this will result in a small number of genuine claimants receiving these letters.

The SURF1 letter advises individuals that HMRC believe that their unique taxpayer reference (“UTR”) may have been used to potentially make a fraudulent repayment claim. HMRC will ask that they be contacted by telephone.

Following that phone call, HMRC will issue a SURF2 letter which asks the individual to provide evidence of their identity and address by providing copies of documents from two specific lists. They will also ask that a repayment questionnaire be completed and returned with a R38 form to claim the refund. At present, these documents can only be returned to HMRC by post.

If you have any queries on the above or have any concerns on the validity of any letters received, the investigations team at Markel Tax are able to assist and verify the phone numbers or return addresses listed. We can also assist with any issues that may arise as a result of any repayment claim.

You can find out more about HMRC’s investigations relating to tax fraud and the assistance available from our tax Investigations team on our website or by contacting us on 0333 305 3667 or email at

Tagged HMRC Tax Investigations
Next article in series

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A topical overview of serious tax investigations