Car retailers who have sought government support during the COVID-19 lockdown period are being warned to be on their guard as scammers posing as the HMRC launch an opportunistic fraud campaign.

In the latest of its regular updates seeking to guide retailers through various coronavirus-triggered challenges in the sector, ASE warned that fraudsters are taking advantage of people’s anxiety and changes in normal routine and procedures to target both individuals and businesses.

It said that, with the first claims now submitted for both the Government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, it was now “the perfect time for scammers to contact you pretending to be HMRC”.

ASE said that fraudsters are relying on the fact that the Government’s fiscal support schemes are new, so people will not be certain whether contact is part of the normal claims process, and also that claimants will be very keen to receive their money.

“The approach could be in the form of email, text or phone call and HMRC have updated their guidance to explain how to identify genuine contact from them”, ASE said.

“They also outline some reasons they are currently contacting taxpayers and what format this will take.

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“In addition, the accounting press has outlined that HMRC are calling to verify some Job Retention Scheme claims but when doing so they are able to quote parts of the claim reference number and are only verifying that a claim had been made by the claimant.”

ASE said that, in general, HMRC would not contact car retailers to inform them that they are entitled to a tax refund or require them to disclose sensitive financial information via email or over the phone.

It added: “Any unsolicited contact should be verified by visiting the gov.uk website or contacting us for further advice.”

For further information from HMRC on the issue of phishing fraudsters, click here.

New research conducted by the financial comparison platform KnowYourMoney.co.uk revealed how keen UK businesses might be to gain feedback from HMRC as they struggle to access the financial support they need to survive coronavirus pandemic.

Its survey of more than 900 decision-makers within UK businesses revealed that 42% of UK businesses have closed temporarily as a result of the pandemic, with 48% having furloughed staff and 26% having made employees redundant.

However, the majority (71%) of those who have furloughed staff are yet to receive any financial support through this scheme and over a quarter (27%) of firms who have successfully applied for a business loan during the pandemic have not yet received it.

Nic Redfern, finance director at KnowYourMoney.co.uk, said: “Evidently, with closures and furloughing taking place on a huge scale, there is significant need for financial support within the private sector.

“However, knowing where to turn for financial support is not that straightforward, nor is applying for it.

“That is why it is not only essential that loans are made available to businesses of all shapes and sizes, but also the process of applying for those loans is made as simple as possible.

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“What’s more, our research illustrates that the funds must then be released quicker – thousands of companies are waiting for money they have successfully applied for and this delay could run them into the ground.”

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