University students are being targeted by scammers with fake tax refunds in an effort to steal money and personal details, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has warned. The scammers are using seemingly legitimate university email addresses (for example ‘@uc.ac.uk’) in order to avoid detection. The tax authority has received thousands of fraud reports in just a few weeks from students at colleges across the UK.

Universities Aberdeen, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Imperial College London, King’s CollegeLondon, Manchester Metropolitan, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth, Queen Mary (London), Queen’s (Belfast), Southampton, Sussex, University College London, Warwick have been urged to take action to make students aware.

Often HMRC related email scams spoof the branding of GOV.UK and well-known credit cards in attempt to look authentic. The recipient’s name and email address may be included several times within the email itself. Fraudulent emails and texts will regularly include links which take students to websites where their information can be stolen. Between April and September this year, HMRC requested that 7,500 of these phishing sites be deactivated. This compares to around 5,200 requests during the same period in 2017.

HMRC’s phishing advice is:

  • recognise the signs – genuine organisations like banks and HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, password or bank details;
  • stay safe – do not give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in emails you weren’t expecting;
  • take action – forward suspicious emails claiming to be fromHMRC to phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.ukand texts to 60599;
  • If you suffer financial loss, contact Action Fraud, the fraud information and reporting organisation, on 0300 123 2040 or use its online fraud reporting tool
  • check GOV.UK for information on how to avoid and report scams a recognise genuine HMRC contact

Mel Stride MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury said: “HMRC will never inform you about tax refunds by email, text or voicemail. If you receive one of these messages it is a scam. Do not click on any links in these messages and forward them to HMRC’s phishing email address. Although HMRC is cracking down hard on internet scams, criminals will stop at nothing to steal personal information. I’d encourage all students to become phishing aware – it could save you a lot of money.”

Pauline Smith, Director of Action Fraud said: “Devious fraudsters will try every trick in the book to convince victims to hand over their personal information, often with devastating consequences. It is vital that students spot the signs of fraudulent emails to avoid falling victim by following HMRC’s advice. Together with HMRC, we work tirelessly to stop fraudsters in their tracks and to prevent unsuspecting members of the public from falling victim to fraud.”