Tax refund? Not likely!

Watch out for the online fraudsters' latest scam, says Simon Read
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The Independent Online

Have you been sent an email offering you a tax refund? It's the latest scam set up by crooks to steal your identity and empty your bank account. And the fraudsters are ramping up their efforts to trick us out of our cash.

A record 83,000 scam emails offering fake tax refunds were reported to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) in September with the online attacks continuing this month. An unprecedented 10,000 reports of the fraud were made to the HMRC on one day alone. Email addresses at The Independent have even been targeted.

The scam email claims you are due a tax refund and then asks for your bank account or credit card details. Those who hand over their details are setting themselves up to have their bank accounts emptied and their credit cards maxed to their limit. There is also a risk of personal details being sold to other criminals.

The latest version of this scam originates from various websites, which operate for 20 minutes before changing their domain name, according to the HMRC. John Harrison, head of HMRC's customer contact online, urges anyone who receives the email to forward it to the Government.

"We only contact customers who are due a refund in writing by post," Mr Harrison says. "We never use emails, telephone calls or external companies in these circumstances. I would strongly encourage anyone receiving such an email not to open it, send it to us for investigation at phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk and then delete it from their computer."

The warning comes during National Identity Fraud Prevention Week which aims to raise awareness of the scam, and what can be done about it.

Plenty of people are taken in by the scam according to the latest figures from CIFAS, the UK's Fraud Prevention Service. It says that nearly 60,000 people have fallen victim to identity theft so far this year – a 36 per cent increase when compared with the first nine months of 2008.

Detective Chief Superintendent Nigel Mawer, head of the Met Police's economic and specialist crime command, says: "The issue of identity theft is not something that will go away. With increasing developments in technology and constant increase in computer usage it is crucial that we continue to raise public awareness. By taking simple measures the public can protect their identity and ultimately avoid becoming a victim."

Darryl Bowman, of CreditExpert, Experian says: "We are still not doing enough to protect against identity fraud, while fraudsters continue to get more sophisticated."

To find out what you can do to avoid becoming a victim go to www.getsafeonline.co.uk or www.stop-idfraud.co.uk

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