HMRC warns students of scam emails and texts offering tax rebates and refunds as thousands leave for university and in search of part-time jobs
Students looking for part-time jobs are at an increased risk of falling victim to scams, HM Revenue and Customs is warning.
With large numbers starting university and college courses and hundreds of thousands likely to take on part-time work, being new to interacting with HMRC and unfamiliar with genuine contact from staff leaves young people hugely vulnerable to scams, says the government department.
In the last year almost one million people reported scams to HMRC with nearly half of those offering fake tax refunds - which the department is quick to point it it would never do either by text message or email.
Criminals attempting to steal either money or personal information to sell onto others will often claim their messages are from trusted and familiar companies or brands - such as HMRC - because it adds credibility to their scams.
What's more - bogus links or files in messages can also lead to people inadvertently downloading dangerous software onto computers or phones that can gather someone's personal data or lock the machine until its owner pays a ransom to release it.
Between April and May this year, 18 to 24-year olds reported more than 5,000 phone scams to HMRC, and with thousands about to head off to university, the risks are high when it comes to them being targeted.
As estimated 900,000 students held some form of part-time job during the last academic year from September 2020 until this summer.
Mike Fell, Head of Cyber Security Operations at HMRC, said: “Most students won’t have paid tax before, and so could easily be duped by scam texts, emails or calls either offering a ‘refund’ or demanding unpaid tax. Students, who will have had little or no interaction with the tax system might be tricked into clicking on links in such emails or texts.
“Our advice is to be wary if you are contacted out of the blue by someone asking for money or personal information. We see high numbers of fraudsters contacting people claiming to be from HMRC."
Anyone in doubt about communication they've been sent should not reply directly but instead make contact with HMRC through the gov.uk website where they will also find information about potential scams and how to manage them.
In the last year the HMRC says it has worked with the telecoms industry to remove more than 2,000 phone numbers being used to commit HMRC-related scams while more than 12,000 malicious web pages were reported in order to be taken down as well.
In April last year, during the first coronavirus lockdown, just 425 reports of phone scams were passed to HMRC staff but by August this year the figure had risen substantially to more than 3,200 incidents.