Real or fake? How HMRC communicates
Out of the blue, a text or phone call claiming to be HMRC.
It threatens legal action over your tax, or tells you your National Insurance number has been ‘compromised’ — or perhaps it says you’re due a tax refund. The common denominator, though, is that you’re asked to provide details, like bank or credit card information — giving a criminal access to your affairs.
You can protect yourself by knowing what genuine contact from HMRC looks like, and the place to start is ‘HMRC phishing and scams’ on gov.uk. This gives detailed information about HMRC-related scams, with examples of known phishing emails, suspicious phone calls and texts. The pages are regularly updated.
HMRC uses a number of different communication channels: letter, email, phone, and text message. To help you identify fakes, gov.uk gives guidance on how these are used, and the type of content HMRC uses them for. The ‘intelligent text message service’ for instance, is increasingly used if you call one of HMRC’s helplines from a mobile phone. HMRC sees this as a way to resolve queries more efficiently. Texts are triggered if you use particular key words — like ‘find unique taxpayer reference number’ — to describe why you’re phoning. The text will route you to HMRC online services or guidance.
On occasion, HMRC uses QR codes. It does this in two specific ways. Firstly, in a letter, where they would be used to take you to guidance on gov.uk. They would not be used to take you to a page to input personal information. Secondly, a QR code might be used if you’re logged into your HMRC account, to redirect you elsewhere.
HMRC is wary about using email as a way of corresponding because of the security issues involved. Unless you have specifically given it permission to correspond with you by email, email contact about your affairs apparently from HMRC is likely to be suspect.
The page ‘Check a list of genuine HMRC contacts’ explains where HMRC is currently engaging with the public. It’s useful to know that proactive contact from HMRC like this is often very specific. From 13 November 2023 to 30 August 2024, for instance, it’s working with BMG Research on a survey into aspects of its National Minimum Wage compliance programme, and may approach by email, letter or phone, inviting you to take part.
If you do inadvertently share your personal details with someone impersonating HMRC, gov.uk also gives guidance on what to do next, as well as explaining how to report any suspicious contact you receive.