HMRC says covid scams against self-employed are winding down

HMRC has hailed a reduction in covid support scams and skims, meaning sole traders should now be less susceptible to being targeted by bogus SEISS claim forms.

But indicating crooks are almost as aware as freelancers of self-assessment season, HMRC says the “decline in covid scams” saw “criminals adjust their sights to focus on new” areas.

While those new scams will likely specify ‘tax returns’ ahead of the Jan 31st filing deadline, most pandemic-related scams refer to covid generally, rather than the SEISS in particular.

'Now that schemes have closed'

In disclosing this subtle difference to FreelanceUK, an HMRC spokesperson also shared a copy of a bogus SEISS claim form, which was still preying on freelancers as late as Sep 22.

So, although covid-related scams are winding down “now that the schemes have closed,” said the HMRC spokesperson, tricksters were still active just eight days before the SEISS closed.

In a sign of sophistication versus bogus ‘HMRC refund’ emails which contain spelling errors, the “You’re eligible for the fifth grant” SEISS email displays the accurate coverage details.

'Have your tax return credit to your bank account'

“The fifth grant is intended to cover the period from May 2021 to September 2021,” the email states correctly. “Please submit your application for the fifth SEISS grant now.”

Less convincingly, and clunkily worded, the email then directs the recipient to a link – purporting to be to HMRC’s website – “to have your tax refund credit to your bank account.”

But the HMRC spokesperson explained that the crooks are simply trying their luck – they wouldn’t know the recipient claimed a grant; wants to claim, or is even eligible.

'A scammer would not know if you used SEISS'

“A scammer wouldn't know if anyone had received a grant as that information is not made public,” the Revenue official said, referring to the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

The official added: “Scammers are opportunists who contact many people at once, in the hope someone will respond, and be duped.”

Where scammers made contact with SEISS users, via email, SMS, or over the telephone, HMRC said that to maximise their chance of success, closed questions were unlikely.

'Open questions'

“If scammers call…they might ask open questions,” the HMRC spokesperson said, with the example, “I believe you have received government support in the form of a SEISS grant?”

Addressing taxpayers who are worried they might be taken-in by scammers giving them the wrong information about the taxable SEISS grants, the Revenue outlined the right process.

'No matter when your accounting period begins'

Firstly, taxpayers should report any SEISS grants they received on or before April 5th 2021 on their 2020-21 tax return, which must be submitted by Jan 31st 2022.

Secondly, and conversely, taxpayers should not include the fourth or fifth SEISS grants on their 2020-21 return, as these were paid post April 5th 2021.

“If you received these grants, you should include these on your next 2021-22 return instead, advised the HMRC spokesperson. “This is the correct action no matter when your accounting period begins and ends.”

 

26th November 2021

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