Some guidance on looking out for HMRC and other email scams
In this busy digital age it can sometimes be difficult to strike the balance between embracing new technology (Charterhouse are strong advocates of using powerful online accountancy packages, we are Xero platinum partners) and maintaining vigilance against online security threats and scams. It is this latter element that we are going to consider in this blog post and we wish to share with you a few words to the wise that will help you when you receive potentially misleading email or text messages.
HMRC is quite active in warning people to be vigilant against scammers. Fraudsters are contacting people via email and text messages with “phishing” messages to persuade them to hand over bank details or other important messages. “Phishing” is the attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and money), often for malicious reasons, by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication (Wikipedia definition).
HMRC reports that it received 84,549 phishing reports in March 2018 and took action to request that 2,672 phishing websites be taken down. It should be noted that you are most likely to receive a fake tax rebate message in the weeks following the annual January 31st tax deadline
It is worth taking a look at HMRC's guidelines on phishing awareness at this government web page: https://www.gov.uk/report-suspicious-emails-websites-phishing
The main points to note are that HMRC will never contact you by email or text in order to:
- tell you about a tax rebate or penalty
- ask for personal or payment information or password information
If you spot something along these lines then you are invited to report it to HMRC who will take the necessary action to close down scamming websites and will pass on details to the police fraud squad who will endeavour to catch the culprits.
In general, the following steps will help protect you against any online skull-duggery:
- only allow someone to remotely access your computer if they are from a trusted source, such as your internet service provider (and be very careful about that as pretending to be an ISP is a widespread tactic)
- create passwords that are long, unique and use a mix of random numbers and lower and upper case letters (the longer the password the harder it is to guess - a 10 digit password is better than an 8 digit one)
- make sure you change passwords regularly and don't share them
- use antivirus software and keep it up to date so you'll be protected against the most recent viruses - if you buy software online make sure it is from a genuine supplier
- understand what software you are installing on your computer or phone and make sure you are using a secure site when you buy software, tablet or smart phone - a secure site will have a web address beginning with https, not http
- make sure your firewallis switched on - operating systems such as Windows come with built in firewall settings, which can monitor and warn you of unexpected access to your computer
- make sure you regularly install updates to your operating system (Windows is an example of an operating system)
- install the latest version of your web browser, for example Internet Explorer, which will have the latest security features
- don't open suspicious or unknown emails, email attachments, texts or pop up messages - for example an email with an unusually worded subject heading
- no genuine company will contact you to ask for your log-in details, such as your password or user id - you should only need to provide this information when you are logging onto a service such as online banking
- before entering payment card details on a website, make sure the link is secure
In the words of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus (Hill St Blues 1981-1987): “Hey, let's be careful out there”.
Charterhouse is a provider of accountancy services and solutions including secure accounting with Xero software and is based in Harrow with clients in Watford, Wembley, High Wycombe and the rest of the UK. At Charterhouse we believe in transforming problems into solutions and creating the freedom for our clients to aim higher!