Thousands of university students have been targeted over the past month by fake tax refund emails. HMRC received a high volume of fraud reports over the last month in what is said to be the first scam that has directly targeted students in this manner.

The scammers were using what appeared to be legitimate university email addresses, ending with ‘@uc.ac.uk’, to avoid detection. The emails inform the recipient about a tax refund in an attempt to steal their banking and personal details. Often imitating the branding of Gov.uk and well-known credit cards in a bid to look authentic.

Between April and September 2018, HMRC asked for 7,500 of these scam sites to be deactivated, an increase from last years 5,200 requests during the same period. The financial secretary to the Treasury, Mel Stride, has said: “Although HMRC is cracking down hard on internet scams, criminals will stop at nothing to steal personal information. I’d encourage all students to become phishing aware – it could save you a lot of money.”

HMRC said it was calling on particular universities to raise awareness of the scam and its dangers. These were Aberdeen, Bristol, Cambridge Durham, Imperial College London, King’s College London, Manchester Metropolitan, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth, Queen Mary (London), Queen’s (Belfast), Southampton, Sussex, University College London, and Warwick. However, more institutions across the country are thought to be affected.

It is believed the cases of fraud have been under-reported, but it is not known how many students have fallen victim to the scam or how much they have lost.

The director of Acton Fraud, Pauline Smith, said: “Devious fraudsters will try every trick in the book to convince victims to hand over their personal information, often with devastating consequences. It is vital that students spot the signs of fraudulent emails to avoid falling victim by following HMRC’s advice.

“HMRC is encouraging all universities to raise awareness of scams and many have already begun taking action to warn their students of the risks.”

It is important to remember that HMRC will not contact you about tax refunds via email, text or voicemail. If you have received anything suspicious do not click any links or give any your information and report it to HMRC at phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk as soon as possible.

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