Watch out for phishing emails offering income tax refunds

HMRC has once again reminded taxpayers, including contractor accountants, to be vigilant if they receive an email offering them a tax refund.

The Revenue revealed that there has been a 300% increase in the number of phishing scams over the past 12 months and taxpayers are warned to ignore any instructions included in these emails.

The director of online and digital at HMRC, Joan Wood, stressed that the department will only contact customers by post if they are due a refund of income tax. At present, HMRC does not telephone customers, send them emails or use external companies to contact refund beneficiaries.

There has been an increased awareness of these scams and that could partly explain the rise in the number of reports, but Ms Wood said she was in no doubt that there are more phishing emails in circulation than there were before.

She went on to say that the Revenue is doing everything it can to make sure recipients know what to do to stop their data falling into the hands of fraudsters.

Meanwhile, HMRC has been holding internal investigations into the problem of delayed responses to correspondence. The Revenue intends moving to an internal scanning system for incoming mail and will release a timetable later this month showing when the system will be implemented.

Tax accountants have been complaining for years that it takes months to get a response from HMRC, and in some instances when they phone the Revenue to chase up a query, they discover the original missive has gone missing. Problems also seem to exist with the system for outgoing bulk mail, which sometimes takes weeks to reach its destination.

I’m sure we’d all like to see HMRC improve the time it takes to respond to queries, but will the scanning system help? Government austerity measures will lead to job losses at HMRC and if they have fewer staff, who exactly will be responding to our questions?

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