Business owners and the self-employed at risk as fraudsters take advantage of upcoming Self Assessment tax deadline
Following the surge in new small and microbusinesses over the past year, The Accountancy Partnership is warning that these first-time business owners should be particularly cautious of any communications they receive from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in the coming months.
Redundancies, furlough and general job uncertainty have triggered an increase in entrepreneurship, with 566,957 new incorporations between January and September. Thousands of newly self-employed businesspeople will be submitting accounts and tax returns for the first time, and therefore may not spot fake phishing communications from fraudsters posing as HMRC.
The UK’s tax, payments and customs authority has warned that the Self Assessment tax deadline on 31 January 2021 is an opportunity for criminals, and those filing tax returns should take care to avoid being caught out.
Fraudulent HMRC communications have already become commonplace this year, as thousands of members of the public have reported scams based on the coronavirus pandemic. Fraudsters use phone, email or texts to contact their victims, primarily offering them bogus tax rebates with the aim of extracting their personal details, and particularly their bank details.
HMRC reported that it has responded to more than 846,000 referrals of suspicious contact this year, and Google Trends data shows that searches for “HMRC scam” reached an all-time high in October this year.
Commenting on the topic, Lee Murphy, director at The Accountancy Partnership, said: “Fraudulent HMRC communications can be really sophisticated, especially to the untrained eye. The huge number of new small businesses and self-employed people who are inexperienced with filing accounts or tax returns are really a goldmine of opportunity for criminals. Negotiating closing financial years and the compliance and legislation that comes with owning a business can be difficult at the best of times and especially so if you have never done it before, so it is unsurprising that members of the public are falling foul of these tricks.
“There are ways business owners can stay vigilant – never give out personal or business details over the phone or on email, thoroughly investigate any communications you receive from HMRC before clicking on any links. If you receive a call from HMRC, say you will call them back using HMRC’s official phone number.
“Outsourcing accounts will also help protect business owners from fraud. Having an experienced third party dedicated to your business accounts will not only ensure you stay compliant and meet deadlines, but also take on the responsibility of dealing HMRC communications and deciphering what is real and what is bogus.”