You might not think about your taxes until Tax day - 31 October for paper and 31 January for online, but online scamsters are already plotting to steal thousands of pounds out of your pocket. Scams for the 2012-2013 tax season include the Taxreturngateway.com scam which posed as a legitimate tax return service and underplayed what consumers could get for free or at a lower cost.
Overall, there are 30 million taxpayers in the UK. Around 10.74 million filed their self-assessment taxes in 2012/2013, with over 8.5 million choosing to do it online. As a result of this, the months between October and January have become ripe for tax-related online scams. Fraudsters know that tax payers are looking for information on tax laws, deductions and expenses. They also know that this is the time of the year when UK taxpayers provide personal information online to file their taxes.
Alan McCappin, our firm’s practice manager, says, “Because most of us wait for the last minute to file our taxes, fraudsters take advantage of this scramble and find ways to lure us into their webs.”
Taxreturngateway.com, exposed in January 2013, was successful in fleecing over 13,000 unwary consumers because it would appear at the top of the searches when people typed in keywords such as “tax return”, “hmrc” and “self-assessment”. In fact, it looked very similar to the HMRC website. The rogue website, owned by a little known Sunderland company called Who4, generated revenues of £7million in just four months by charging customers up to £1,000 for processing their 2012/13 tax returns.
Here’s an example from last year of a legitimate boxed advert showing taxreturngateway.com above Google’s organic search results. If you feel you are being misled by any Google ad you can report your concerns to Google here.
According to a mole at Who4, “Over Christmas and into the New Year, usage of the site exploded as people filed their returns before the January 31 deadline. The income generated by the site also exploded. The directors used to play quite loudly “We’re In The Money” in the large office they shared. That should give you an idea of how they felt about the service they were providing although it must be said that they were always careful when addressing their staff to discuss the business in a positive light and talk about it as a value added service.”
It was only in April, 2014 that the imposter website was forced to shut down and in June 2014 the directors of the company arrested, only to be released on bail without any charges.
Alan McCappin says, “It’s important that UK taxpayers stay alert this tax season. Fraudsters can sound very official and legit. Do not be fooled.”
In a bid to help you thwart the bad guys, we’ve listed the following tips:
- When you click through to the website, carefully read the domain name that appears in your browser. Be especially mindful of slight changes like extra words, misspellings and anything but the usual hmrc.gov.uk endingx
- Ensure the web address always begins with “https://" instead of "http://." - the ‘s’ stands for secure.
- Read the homepage of the website – it might state that it’s not affiliated with HMRC.
- Keep an eye for paid-for search engine results. These are yellow boxed adverts which appear right at the top of search engine results. Most often HRMC’s official site will appear in the first or second place of organic (not paid for) search rankings.
- Never use a search engine to look up tax forms. Instead log-in directly to HMRC’s website to look for such information.
- Use the latest web browser version, such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. This ensures you have the latest security patches.
- Lastly, never file you taxes/reveal sensitive information over an unencrypted Wi-fi connection such as the one you get at coffee shops.
Over 11.2 million people are expected to file a tax return online for the tax year 2013/14. The deadline for submission of any tax due is 31 October for paper and 31 January for online returns. Missing the tax return deadline results in a £100 late-filing penalty. There are further late-filing penalties after 3, 6 and 12 months. As with other arrangements, it’s advised that taxpayers either seek advice of a trusted tax professional or if they want to go at it alone, visit https://online.hmrc.gov.uk/login to file their taxes.