/ Scams

Scam alert: Government grant phishing attempts

A fake email purporting to be from HMRC is circulating, telling people they’re eligible for a ‘government grant’. Here’s a copy so you know what to watch out for.

26/01/20: ‘Lockdown support plan’ grants

Fake GOV UK communications continue to circulate, with a dodgy ‘lockdown support plan’ text now attempting to catch people out:

Fortunately most web browsers, such as Google Chrome in this example, will recognise that the URL is a phishing attempt and provide a warning:

Despite these warning messages, it’s still worth treating any email or text you receive out of the blue with suspicion.

Beware of bogus links relating to the pandemic and follow the advice we’ve provided in our vaccine scam warning, which will help you identify fraudulent messages.

02/10/20: fake HMRC emails

Any email that makes it past a spam filter may catch someone off guard, especially when its faked branding is slick and familiar to the recipient.

That’s exactly the case with this phishing email, which states that ‘you are eligible to make a claim for a second and final grant’:

This is yet another scam using GOV.UK branding attempting to steal your bank details and/or other personal information.

More fake government emails

Much like the council tax scam email we covered back in May, it’s also designed to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic.

An HMRC spokesperson said:

“Criminals are taking advantage of the package of measures announced by the government to support people and businesses affected by coronavirus.

Scammers text, email or phone taxpayers offering spurious financial support or tax refunds, sometimes threatening them with arrest if they don’t immediately pay fictitious tax owed.

HMRC has detected 130 COVID-related financial scams since March, most by text message. We have asked Internet Service Providers to take down more than 144 web pages associated with these scam campaigns. 

Several of the scams mimic government messages as a way of appearing authentic and unthreatening.

If someone texts, emails or calls claiming to be from HMRC, saying that you can claim financial help or are owed a tax refund, and asks for credit card or bank details, it might be a scam. Check GOV.UK for information on how to recognise genuine HMRC contact. 

We have a dedicated Customer Protection Team in our Cyber Security Operations and work is always ongoing to identify and close down scams”

Aside from the unrelated email address this scam has arrived from, there’s a lot about it that could make you think it’s genuine; the subject line even includes a reference number, while the general look and feel mimics legitimate emails and the text is generally clear.

But if you do click through on the link, you’ll be taken to a fake website where you’ll be asked to hand over sensitive information.

Spotting phishing scam attempts

With criminals attempting to take advantage of the current global situation, it’s more important than ever that you carefully check over any emails you receive out of the blue, especially when they’re encouraging you to provide personal data.

Our guide on how to spot a scam email can help cover the basic checks you need to do, while all the scams we’ve covered here on Which? Conversation are worth a read to show the different techniques involved in a phishing email.

If you’re unsure, contact the organisation or brand involved directly via its official channels. You can find HMRC’s here.

You can also report phishing to HMRC on phishing@hmrc.gov.uk and 60599 for texts.

Have you received this fake HMRC email? Have you had any others lately? Let us know in the comments.


H M R C Always send a statement by post first, telling you if they owe you money, or you owe them money. If you owe them money they tell you how to pay them. If they owe you money a cheque follows in the post about a week later. This has always happened to me.

Will we demand that banks refund everyone who falls for this scam?

Cliff Baker says:
3 October 2020

Why? People must accept responsibility for their own mistakes.

Exactly, Cliff. But so often we see Which? demanding they are refunded. Using your, and my, money, of course, indirectly through poorer interest, higher loan costs and, no doubt, out of the new extortionate overdraft charges where the campaign led to an own goal.

Anna says:
3 October 2020

My bank don’t back for me money. I was many times but they said we doesn’t have money for scam

David Johnson says:
3 October 2020

A few years ago I would have agreed with you – but then I developed Dementia and, although it shames me to say it, I now find it much much harder to spot them. I have avoided loss so far but they really don’t stand out like they used to. I’m a great believer in personal self sufficiency but I have come to realize that some folk may have real difficulty in spotting these things.

Alan says:
3 October 2020

You obviously have not been scammed, its not a mistake, it is a matter of being brought up being honest and trusting. As happened with me, the banks had information which they would not share with me and as an honest and trusting senior I was taken in. Yes I was a company director, yes I do have a university degree, yes I am, and was aware of the tricks scammers get up to but I still fell for a scam. You do not have to be foolish to be taken in.

Alan says:
3 October 2020

The banks do not use your or my money to refund victims of scams, they use their profits which would otherwise go to investors, yes I am one of those too but the profits far, far outweigh the scam losses. Check their balance sheets.

Alan – Some might say that the banks’ profits are excessive. If money did not have to be paid out or set aside in compensation for bad service, as provision against miss-selling, and to refund victims of preventable fraud, the banks could charge lower fees or raise interest rates on savings and still make handsome profits for their shareholders. The only source of money for profits is the customers so it is our money that is being wasted or given away unjustifiably.

how do you know it comes out of profits????
that’s simplistic thinking – it comes out of customer fees not profits!

Banks will want to preserve their profitability to be able to pay their owners – the shareholders – who may be individuals but also pension funds on whom many of us depend for our income. So an increase in outgoings – compensation payments for example – will be compensated by an increase in income from elsewhere – such as loan and overdraft charges and reduced interest on deposits.

I know that is simplistic but I believe that, in the end, the customers pays.

Peter Ramsay says:
5 October 2020

You are like Americans who do not want a health service because other people will be using their contributions. There are a lot of elderly frail people caught in these scams. You are giving “humanity” a bad reputation.

Peter – There are indeed many unfortunate people caught by telephone scams, but that is not a reason why banks should refund any money stolen from their accounts. The scams work by getting people to open their computers and giving access to the scammers while they are talking to them over the phone. I think that must rule out most of the particularly vulnerable people from being trapped. I have great sympathy for those who have been scammed but if their bank has made no contribution whatsoever to the incident I don’t see why it should have any liability.

I think this thread is mixing up two separate issues – telephone call scams that lead to theft of money via computer access and ‘authorised push payment’ fraud where people alter their payment instructions after receiving a fraudulent e-mail message. In the latter case it has been argued that the banks are liable because they have failed to provide protection through (a) inadequate authentication procedures, (b) inadequate status checks on people opening accounts. They are gradually addressing the first issue but it appears that criminals may still be able to open bank accounts at will.

A search through old emails turned up this scam from 2014. I did not open the attachment. As Kevin has said, HMRC communicate by post, but if I had suspected that the email was genuine I would have contacted HMRC by email or phone.

“Dear Applicant: xxxxxxxx

We have reviewed your tax return and our calculations of your
last years accounts a tax refund of 178.25 is due.Please submit
the tax refund request and allow us 3-6 days in order to process

A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons.
For example submitting invalid records or applying after the

Submit the form attached to your email in order to verify your

Best Regards,
HM Revenue & Customs
6/26/2014 22:29:27
Š Copyright 2014, HM Revenue & Customs UK All rights reserved.

Yes, and no doubt there will be more, but if an email seems genuine then it makes sense to contact HMRC, looking up contact details for yourself and not using ones in the email.

John Burton says:
2 October 2020

I have received several notifications to claim the self-employment Covid payment after I have claimed and received the payments. They didn’t look right to me but when I sent one to HMRC they said it was genuine. It would make sense not to send reminders to people who have already claimed and been paid. Sending unnecessary emails reduces the recipient’s alertness to scams.

I received a phishing text message on 15 September purporting to come from GOV.UK saying I has an outstanding tax refund from the year ending 2019 and asking me to visit their “secure” link to process. I immediately suspected this was a phishing effort to get my bank details. I did double check with my account directly with HMRC which confirmed that I have paid the right amount of tax.

Well done John Burton. It was a pleasure to read a statement from an honest person with a sense of integrity. I agree that superfluous communication from government agencies adds to the likelihood that honest people will be more likely to fall for a scam.

Not had this one yet, but I did get a phone call saying that my Broadband service was being stopped due to fraudulent activity and that I should press one to speak to a customer service agent
I called TalkTalk who are my provider to make them aware, they confirmed that it was not them. Theses people have no Morales.

These “scammers ” are a bit thick . I’ve received a few phone calls telling me my BT broadband will be disconnected unless I press 1 to talk to an engineer . 1 Problem , I’m not with BT !

I had a similar call but from a “BT Representative”. I pointed out I’m not a BT customer but was told, quite convincingly that ultimately BT ran the Internet therefore I was affected. I wasn’t at all persuaded so didn’t proceed. However, what was frightening was the background contact centre noise; it’s fraud on an industrial scale.
I reported it to the Police.

Alan says:
3 October 2020

The background noise is an audio overlay which can be bought over the internet that is generated to sound like a busy and successful office in the background.

Some scammers do indeed work on an industrial scale, at least according to the footage presented by Jim Browning in some of his YouTube videos.

Their idea is throw enough mud at the wall and some of it will stick.

I had a text purporting to be from HMRC. It had a link to a website for the purpose of obtaining my bank details. I didn’t follow the link but I used the phone number to check who was sending the text. It was a fake number. I deleted the text then contacted Which. It would have been so easy to be scammed. If in doubt, bin it. For tax, contact HMRC for confirmation. Keep safe folks and double check.

Brian says:
3 October 2020

I received this text on the 25th Sept:
PayPal:Your account is undergoing review please visit: https://user-id9589488.com?p=4 to remove block.
Needless to say I did not proceed

Hi Brian – You can forward spam texts to 7726: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/how-to-deal-with-spam-text-messages I’m not sure if there is a procedure specifically for scam texts.

If you log into your PayPal account you should be able to confirm that all is well.

I received a voicemail message on my mobile, on 28th September 2020, purporting to be from HMRC. The phone number was shown as 01332 605003 (no doubt this will be untraceable, by now). I realised it was a scam call, so did not click on the link. Two questions need to be raised:
1. Why is it so difficult to report these calls promptly? I ultimately reported this event on HMRC’s phishing website, but I had wasted nearly an hour trying to report it to Trading Standards, police, etc., getting referred to other agencies / numbers all of which failed to answer my calls.
2. British Telecom must be allocating blocks of numbers to these scammers. They should be checking and validating all requests for new numbers and they should have a direct contact number for members of the public to report scammers, so that the line and all associated lines can be taken down promptly and the police alerted. The number which I quoted, above, must show who applied for it.

Alan says:
3 October 2020

This raises several concerns relating to scams. 1 Action fraud website is a waste of time and money. I lost over £200,000, action fraud did not even respond despite receiving a case number. 2 The only help I could find was via a commercial organisation who’s business ethics are close to the scammers. 3 BT or Virgin have to make available the full contact and banking information on the person requesting the phone numbers even if it is only to the police. 4 Web hosts MUST be made responsible for the content of websites they host and must contribute to an industry wide safety net like ABTA or similar to compensate victims, without cause or blame. The FCA are a slow dinosaur of an organisation and are due an overhaul. 5 Agree that BT and Virgin must have a simple direct contact to report scam numbers and websites.

To the best of my knowledge, BT and Virgin do not allocate blocks of numbers to scammers. Instead, the scammers use VOIP software to spoof their caller display numbers. They will even sometimes clone their victims numbers and then use those.

I would suggest that, ultimately, the ease with which scammers can use the UK telecom system to spoof numbers, lie to customers, access their computers, extort money from their accounts, and give commercial companies and other organisations a bad name, is an Ofcom failure.

I do not know what Which? does with all the reports it receives through this and its other channels like social media and consumer research, but I have no sense that any effective action is being taken. This could be because the complaints are going to the wrong place: what can Which? possibly do to stop the scams? Is it not time for Ofcom to feel the heat?

If all the reports that are sent to Which? were instead landing on Ofcom’s desk, and required an answer or action, something might happen. At the moment it is being sheltered by Which? from the full force of consumer wrath. It is presiding over a national telecom infrastructure that is wide open to criminal abuse. It doesn’t seem to have to account for its inaction or to explain itself.

I cannot believe there isn’t a technical fix that would prevent the misuse of the telecom system in this way, even for calls originating overseas. Eventually, if enough minds of the right calibre are applied to a problem a solution can be found. We need Ofcom to act as the instigator of such a process using all the tools of modern analytical software intelligence [possibly involving GCHQ] to stop the use of the telecom system to invade people’s privacy and rob them of their money.

I completely agree, John. As regulator, Ofcom should be pushing to find solutions and keeping the citizens of this country better informed. Ofcom may, like Trading Standards, be underfunded but I have not seen this suggested.

I am disappointed by our regulators, some more than others and would like to see them more accountable.

We usually seem treat these sorts of issues here as UK problems. I presume all these scams take place in other countries. So I’d suggest we see of they have found, or are working on, solutions and, if so, pursue those. As far as Europe is concerned Which? could ask all the other Consumer Associations either directly or through BEUC. We may not have to reinvent the wheel.

Which? could, of course, ask Ofcom to provide an explanation of the problems involved and what actions they can take. I think we too rarely go to the horses mouth in these Convos but continue speculating without asking those who should know.

I agree, Malcolm. There is no point in belonging to cross-border consumer organisations if we are not going to benefit from the collective wisdom.

I feel that we in the UK are more vulnerable to offshore scams because half the world speaks English [another colonial legacy to fret over, I suppose] whereas penetrating the German or Danish households with a crafty scam might be more difficult. We also have an open culture and an inclination to believe what others tell us. All the more reason why we should seek solutions to these problems wherever they might be found and use international cooperation to our advantage for once.

It would be good if BEUC coordinated efforts and did more work with other consumer organisations but they have very limited funding. Our post Brexit relationship with BEUC remains uncertain.

Is it not time that we push the government of the day to hold Ofcom and other regulators responsible for established problems rather than just expecting action from Which? I would like to see Which? focus their efforts where they see they can do most to help consumers over serious consumer detriment. To my mind there is the risk of taking too much on and achieving less progress.

When you say “we push government” I doubt as individuals we would have any sway. That, surely, is why for consumer affairs we have an association of consumers – Which? – to provide a collective and more powerful voice. We give them £100 million a year to work on our behalf. Perhaps what we, as individuals, should be doing is pushing Which? to prioritise its work to address the more serious consumer detriments with less emphasis on more trivial issues. Something we have repeatedly suggested.

For those who don’t know too much about BEUC – including me – here is the link and a bit of background:


Consumers on the European stage
BEUC is the umbrella group for 44 independent consumer organisations from 32 countries. Our main role is to represent them to the EU institutions and defend the interests of European consumers. Our acronym originates from our French name, ‘Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs’.
Our daily work involves making sure the EU takes policy decisions that improve the lives of consumers. This covers a range of topics including competition, consumer rights, digital rights, energy, redress and enforcement, financial services, food, health, safety, sustainability and trade policy.
The BEUC secretariat is in Brussels and has a staff of around 45.
For nearly 60 years, BEUC has worked relentlessly to represent the interests of European consumers. By working closely with our members, we bring together consumers’ viewpoints from across Europe, and apply these to our work in the EU policy-making arena. As a not-for-profit organisation, our policy successes would not be possible without the funding support we receive from both our members, and our supporters. We are immensely grateful for this support, which allows us to achieve greater impact and to represent the consumer voice on a broad range of priority issues.

Our income
Our income in 2019 was €6,697,936. This includes:
• 27% – Membership fees, from our members (independent consumer organisations)
• 29% – An EU operating grant, received from the European Commission Consumer Programme 2014-2020 to support our work on behalf of European consumers
• 38% – EU institution funded projects, which we deliver following successful bids to competitive calls for proposals
• 5% – Foundation-funded projects
• 1% – Other income

The BEUC contribution from their members averages €41100 per member. I don’t remember a figure in Which?’s accounts but the average represents around 0.037% of Which?’s annual income. It seems to me that if we want an umbrella organisation representing all our interest to the EU then it could be much better funded with little impact on its members.

Its been a good week for me – I received an appointment letter from ‘the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ advising me that ‘The United Nations Organization has chosen you as Ambassadors/Humanitarian officers to the United Nations High Commissioners of Refugees(UNHCR). ‘ All I need to do is phone them and accept.
I also received notification of delivery of a PlayStation 4 Digital Edition, again with a phone number ‘If you Need more information or assistance :- +1 386-957-9091. ‘ Lucky me!

There is also one going around purporting to be from the “courts and tribunal service” demanding £10 payment for a generic traffic offence. When viewed on a phone it might be convincing to some, when viewed on a desktop you can see the email sent from address looks odd and if you check the payment link its to a .co.uk not .gov site. Other red flags – i) the description of the infringement is vague and woolly, ii) there is no licence plate give, iii) the the time of the offence is always 7am -7m the day before the email is sent. iv) of, course – who gets find “only £10” for a traffic/speeding offence!

Harry says:
3 October 2020

I had the same yesterday: it stated that I owe £12+ and if I did not reply by the dead line it was going to be £48 +. There was a phone number but there was also a note saying that it was not working; so that left me to reply to a silly email address, which was quite unbeleivable for any government department
If this was not paid they would send in Bailiffs, i was not told where the offence took place or the vehicle details, and only got the date. Having had a genuine one some years ago, i have ignored it, the clincher being i did not take my car out that date.

Tony Baldwin says:
3 October 2020

Just deleted a scam email from HM Gov saying I was caught driving down a prohibited road and must pay a penalty charge of £12.24 (doubled if not paid within 14 days). Nice try! I don’t even own a car!

Avis Hannon says:
3 October 2020

I had the same one, made me laugh as I have never driven or owned a car so knew immediately it was a scam. But sadly some people could be caught out. Detest these scum preying on the vulnerable.

John Ross says:
3 October 2020

Any scam calls we receive we use BT.com. Search for REPORT A SCAM CALL to report a scam on their web page. Then enter the telephone number calling you with the date and time. What action BT takes I have no idea. However, it works for us as over a year we have received very few scam calls. I am also registered with the telephone Preference Service.

I received an email from HM Courts &Tribunals with a fixed penalty notice, total cost £12.24. This is hilarious as I have been self isolating since March and my car hasn’t left my driveway. However other people may pay it. Beware they are out there for your money.

I did not know that HM Courts & Tribunals issued parking penalties. You could ask for photographic evidence of the offence. 🙂

I put it in with other Spam emails. It was obvious to me.

LizB says:
3 October 2020

Received the same email from “Courts and Tribunal Service” demanding £10 payment for a parking offence. The previous day I had driven round and round a car park trying to find a space before picking up my passenger and leaving. So I was not surprised at receiving the email.
But then wondered how they got my email address, and, as Martin said, when viewed on a laptop the email address was odd, and there was no location or time of offence. But, in this particular case, the coincidence of timing was critical and I could have easily fallen for it. A wake up call.

I received one of these asking for £12.24. Oddly the telephone number 0343 222 331 was listed as ‘temporarily unavailable’ How convenient! Didn’t fall for it I’m afraid!

HMRC will not give grant to people getting pension or have property income beside the normal income unless the income is too small and is not sufficient to maintain the family

I have had several mobile phone calls saying that they are fro HMRC saying that i need to have a solicitor as there is a court order out on me for owing tax they say if i don’t contact them i will end up going to coourt

Michael says:
3 October 2020

Had a phone call this morning purporting to come from HMRC. A recorded message stated that I owed money and to press 1 to speak to an advisor. The message ended by stating that if this money wasn’t paid I would shortly be arrested

I haven’t had a single scam phone call on my landline since getting a phone with the BT call guardian/Truecall system. It works on other providers systems. The only downside is that I don’t get to spend time winding up the most obvious scammers One actually told me that they were appointed to deal with the fictitious company that I made up. if you are replacing your phone I would strongly recommend the call/guardian/Truecall ones

Re: Epona – I too have the BT Call Guardian, it is set to send Withheld and Unavailable numbers to the answering machine. Surprisingly perhaps (or not) very few such callers leave a message!
It is also possible to send calls from non-local STD codes straight to the answering machine too, but in this case the number is displayed on the calls list. Some, but not all, callers leave a message. So if you think the caller may be somebody you know you can always call back. I usually check the number on an internet call identifying site before I do that. Generally speaking though, if the caller doesn’t leave a message they don’t get a call back.

david taylor says:
4 October 2020

I have had two messages on my mobile.One from Paypal asking me to visit- https//paypal-user-190.com due to safety concerns.The other saying I can write off all my debts and fees frozen by visiting-https://helpclearmydebt.co.uk/c2..I have never used Paypal and also I have no debts!!
I have now deleted both messages from my phone.
But how did they get my number?