UK taxpayers have been targeted by over 1.5 million email scams, calls and text messages over the past two years purporting to be from HMRC.
According to official figures obtained by Griffin Law, from January 1 2018 to December 31 2019 there were a total of over 1.5 million reported scams. Although the vast majority (77%) of attacks came via email, the volume actually dropped by 60% between 2018 and 2019.
The number of fake SMS messages received by taxpayers also rose by 56%, from 36,950 to 57,759 while the number of phone scams reported by the public jumped by a staggering 234% to reach 195, 720 in 2019.
What's most disturbing about these figures is the sophisticated multi-channel approach being used across calls, texts and emails to dupe individuals into assuming these interactions are a legitimate communication from the taxman"
The change in attack method, according to Griffin Law, suggests either taxpayers are becoming more attuned to email threats and spam filtration systems have improved, or cybercriminals are experiencing greater success via mobile.
"It's no surprise that cyber-criminals see impersonating HMRC through fraudulent phishing schemes as an easy route to securing cash pay-outs from unsuspecting victims. What's most disturbing about these figures is the sophisticated multi-channel approach being used across calls, texts and emails to dupe individuals into assuming these interactions are a legitimate communication from the taxman," argued Barracuda Networks SVP, Chris Ross.
"Moving forward, it's vital that there is much more public awareness about how advanced and prevalent these phishing schemes have become. It's also important to recognize the lengths these criminals will go to trick entrepreneurs, finance workers and vulnerable or elderly people into handing over PIN codes or transferring money to false accounts," he added.
For those who are unsure, Donal Blaney, MD of Griffin Law, advises taxpayers to be vigilant.
"No reputable organisation will ask for your private account details or tell you to click through on a link and supply personal data or passwords," he said.
"Learn to spot the fraudsters. Many are very good, but quick clues such as spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in the text, or if it is sent from an obscure looking email address, may indicate that you are being scammed.
"We need to find these criminals and punish them severely for the distress they cause by preying on the vulnerable, or those caught off-guard."
Students were especially likely to fall victim to phishing scams claiming to offer tax rebates. Universities in Cambridge, Heriot Watt, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, St Andrews, Plymouth and Wolverhampton were among the most heavily targeted.