Mr Spam is a very busy chap indeed. He has poked his sticky little fingers into just about every pie on the planet, and that includes the world’s tax systems.

You might have received a load of emails recently from the USA’s tax authorities, obviously spam since you’re over here and they’re over there. But what about HMRC? How do you tell whether an important-looking email really does comes from the people at Her Majesty’s Revenue Collection, or it’s Mr Spam up to his usual dirty tricks?

How to tell if a suspicious email really comes from HMRC

Caution is always the way to go. It’s best not to open the email at all, looking at it through the secondary window in your email first, usually to your right, to avoid opening something that could contain a virus.

If the email includes a link to HMRC’s online Verify service, currently being trialled, it’s a good sign. But if the message includes any kind of request for payment, or for your bank or personal details, it won’t be from HMRC. Like all legitimate organisations they never, ever ask for that kind of information via email.

Another good sign is spelling mistakes. HMRC might be a bit batty at times but they can spell! And check the email address the message came from. If it’s anything except an HMRC address, it’s probably spam. Just hover your mouse arrow over the name in the ‘from’ column.

You can also check these, all of which are often dodgy:

  • Emails in plain text without any logos and other official images or branding you’d expect to see
  • Messages with attachments – especially when the attachment name is a random set of numbers and letters
  • Emails telling you it’s ‘urgent’
  • Messages where the offer they’re making is too good to be true – for example a massive tax rebate
  • Any email that your system labels as ‘spam’

Block spam and get virus-protected

Of course you can block a lot of spam messages via your email system, so they go directly to a spam box. Make sure your settings do exactly that, and tighten up your virus protection while you’re at it.

Check out some examples of dodgy HMRC-scam emails

If you want to see what a suspicious email looks like, you can check some examples at the www.gov.uk website by asking via the search box for ‘HMRC phishing emails’.

Report spam via the UK government site

You can report spam emails via the government’s site, too. Here’s a link to their guide.