Although many people would consider themselves too smart to be preyed upon by scammers, unfortunately businesses continue to fall victim to fraudsters pretending to be HMRC. These fraudsters’ latest phishing exercise involves sending emails out to businesses inviting them to make a claim under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. One email that was seen by infosecurity-magazine.com, claiming to be from Jim Harra, First Permanent Secretary and Chief Executive of HMRC, read:
“Dear customer, we wrote to you last week to help you prepare to make a claim through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. We are now writing to tell you how to access the Covid19 relief. You will need to tell your (sic) us which UK bank account you want the grant to be paid into, in order to ensure funds are paid as quickly as possible to you.”
The message claims to be from HMRC, but the address it was sent from is firstname.lastname@example.org. If your suspicions hadn’t already been raised by the fact that HMRC were emailing you to offer you money, or by the poor grammar in the body of the email, then the domain name “ncryptedprojects.com” would have hopefully convinced you of the fact that this is absolutely a scam.
Although this is an obvious scam, London-based financial services firm Lanop Accountancy Group warned business owners of the dangers of online fraud, speaking to info-security.com.
“We’re calling upon all businesses to think twice before handing over their bank details and making bank transfers in response to email requests during this crisis” said Aurangzaib Chawla, managing partner at Lanop.
“Cyber-crime is rising rapidly, and this is the first of what we expect to be many scam emails, designed to trick unsuspecting owners into handing over private company data.”
During this crisis, when businesses are already at great risk, it’s more important than ever to be extremely careful with your financial details and other sensitive data. Some phishing attacks have been far more sophisticated than the one mentioned above, including emails impersonating the WHO or the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, offering advice but containing URLs that lead to fake login pages and requesting that the recipient “review important information from the WHO.” According to the cyber security company Barracuda Networks, there has been a 667 percent increase in Coronavirus related phishing emails since the end of February; 137 emails were identified in January, 1188 in February and 9000 in March, although they make up only two percent of all email based scams, with 467,825 having been identified since the beginning of March.
MP and member of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, Dean Russell commented on the phishing attacks,
“This is a new low for cyber criminals, who are acting like piranha fish, cowardly attacking people en masse when they are at their most vulnerable.
“It’s vital that the public remain vigilant against scam emails during this challenging time.”
Of course, there is indeed a genuine Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, for which you can apply here. The scheme, which allows for employers to claim back up to 80 percent of furloughed employee’s wages, is part of a range of financial support that is being offered to businesses by the government during the Coronavirus pandemic. More information on the (genuine) help being offered is available on the gov.uk website here. If you need any help navigating your way through the government advice, we’ve put together some advice about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, as well as other schemes the government is offering to help businesses stay afloat during this crisis, including deferral of VAT payments, deferral of self-assessment payments, the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, the Coronavirus Future Fund and other financial aid, here.
It’s hard enough for businesses to have to deal with the actual HMRC, who are showing little signs of slowing down their usual hounding of businesses during the Covid19 crisis, let alone HMRC impersonators looking to trick you out of hard won revenue. So, during this crisis, make sure to be extra careful while also making sure to claim any genuine help that you may be entitled to. We are happy to help you with claiming the support from the government during this time that you may need, or to assist in any other way we can.