THE UK’s tax authority has asked universities to warn new students about tax scams.
Fraudsters use tax-related email scams to steal students money and personal details.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) wants to ensure all students new to universities this year are cyber aware when repeat attacks hit their inboxes.
Fraudsters can use a range of methods to target students, most commonly by sending fake tax refunds using seemingly legitimate university email addresses (often ending in ‘ac.uk’) to avoid detection.
Depending on the details, a criminal is able to obtain from a student, they could steal money, set up direct debits, make purchases for valuable goods on online sites or even take control of their computer – being able to access functions such as their webcam.
The letters to universities, authored by HMRC’s Head of Cyber Security, encourage colleges to raise awareness about tax-related scams at the start of this academic year.
HMRC advised university leaders that students are “more likely to be taken in” by tax scams because students may have “had little or no interaction with the tax system”.
This could make the offer of a tax refund from a scammer seem attractive, especially when on a budget.
Often HMRC-related email scams spoof the branding of GOV.UK and well-known organisations in an attempt to look authentic.
The recipient’s name and email address may be included several times within the email itself.
Jesse Norman MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said: “Cybercriminals use every means they can to steal money and personal data from students. That’s why HMRC is asking all UK universities to make sure students know how to protect themselves.
“HMRC is doing everything they can to clamp down on online fraud, but students and their families need to be vigilant, especially amid all the stresses and strains of going to university. I would urge university principals to take a lead in helping to protect students from these cyber thieves.”
Over 620,000 tax-related email scams were reported to HMRC last year – up by 20,000 in the previous year – including thousands of reports the department received about scam emails targeting students.
Besides email tricks, phone scams have also been used increasingly by criminals to threaten taxpayers into handing over cash. HMRC had over 100,000 reports of such scams last year, compared to 400 in 2016.