Page last updated at 15:34 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 16:34 UK

Scam tax refunds 'reach record'

Lock on computer
A number of different fraud e-mails have been circulating

A record 83,000 scam e-mails offering fake tax refunds were reported to the UK's tax authority in September.

And on one day this month, 10,000 reports about "phishing" e-mails were made to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The messages tended to start with a claim which read: "Following a review of your fiscal activity you are due a refund of tax of £x."

But HMRC stressed that it would never inform people of a tax rebate by e-mail or on the telephone.

Sucker lists

John Harrison, head of HMRC customer contact online, said that the messages tried to extract people's credit card and bank account details.

This left them at risk of their savings being stolen and the details sold on to professional criminal gangs, in so-called "sucker lists".

The latest version of this scam originated from various different websites, which operated for 20 minutes before changing their domain name.

"We only contact customers who are due a refund in writing by post. We never use e-mails, telephone calls or external companies in these circumstances," Mr Harrison said.

He urged people not to click on linked websites on these scam e-mails, but to report these e-mails and delete them.

This is the latest in a series of warnings about scam messages taking the HMRC name.

Losses from all scams in the UK are estimated to total £3.5bn a year. The Office of Fair Trading has calculated that 3.2 million people are caught out by scams each year.

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