There has been a massive increase in the number of fake HMRC emails sent out during the COVID-19 crisis, with many targeting self-employed sole traders applying for SEISS grants.

HMRC has confirmed that in March, the month when the crisis really hit the UK, the number of fraudulent emails claiming to be official HMRC ones was 42,575, and these are just the ones the organisation was made aware of. By comparison, in January the number of fake emails of this sort that HMRC was informed about was 24,446 – with the total for March representing a rise of 74% compared with January.

Details of this were revealed thanks to a freedom of information (FOI) request, and this also provided conclusive evidence that a significant number of the fake HMRC emails sent during March made reference to the virus crisis. This suggests scammers are trying to exploit the worries of sole traders and small business owners during the lockdown. The emails requested sensitive information like bank data and passwords.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Mike Hodges from Saffery Champness said that many of those being targeted were having to contact HMRC over SEISS or other financial support, but were often not used to doing so because they would normally use an advisor, and that this unfamiliarity was being exploited by the scammers.

It demonstrates again just how important professional accountancy services in South Yorkshire and other parts of the UK are in fighting this sort of fraud, and suggests that they should have been allowed to apply for the SEISS grants directly for their clients.

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