This new phishing attack uses an old trick to steal passwords and credit card details

The tax office isn't offering you a refund via email, sorry.

How to help yourself against phishing. Attacks remain most common cyber threat

A new phishing campaign is using an old trick in an effort to steal login credentials, payment details and other sensitive information from victims by claiming to offer them a tax refund which can only be claimed online.

The message claims to be the UK government's tax office, HMRC, and tells potential victims that they're due a tax refund of £542.94 "directly" onto their credit card.

In an attempt to pressure targets into falling for the scheme, they're told that the link to the "customer" portal" expires on the day the message is received -- the hope is that this will panic victims into thinking they'll miss out on a sizeable cash payment. The phishing scam was uncovered by Malwarebytes

The isn't exactly sophisticated -- not only is the subject line extremely poorly formatted and sent from an email address which has nothing to do with government, the attackers have put little effort into the fake HMRC website used to scoop up credentials.


The phishing email claiming to be from HMRC.

Image: Malwarebytes

Before reaching this site, those who click through to the 'portal' are first faced with a fake Outlook login page which asks victims for their username and password in what's purely an attempt to steal credentials.

After victims hand over their email and password, they're taken to a fake 'refund' website which only contains boxes for entering information. Victims are asked to enter their full name, address, phone number, date of birth, mother's maiden name and full credit card details -- including the security code.

SEE: What is phishing? Everything you need to know to protect yourself from scam emails and more

Essentially, the attackers are harvesting all the data required for not just stealing bank details, but login credentials which could be used to access other accounts, as well as vast amounts of personal information which could easily be exploited for identity theft and fraud -- or sold onto others on underground forums.

Tax scams are a common means of cyber criminals attempting to extort information or money from victims: HMRC states it will never offer a repayment or ask for personal information via email.

However, when people get tempted by the prospect of receiving a payment, they can often lower their defences -- even by low-level attacks like this phishing scam.

"These attacks can afford to be crude, as the main pressure point is the temptation of an easy cash windfall tied to a tight deadline. Not knowing that HMRC don't issue refund notifications in this manner would also contribute to people submitting details," Chris Boyd, lead malware intelligence analyst at Malwarebytes told ZDNet.

While this phishing attack might seem basic, attackers wouldn't put time into distributing emails if it didn't work. Phishing remains an effective means of conducting cyber attacks at a number of levels, ranging from low-level scams like this, to high-level hacking and espionage campaigns by nation-state level attackers.

Indeed, a recent report by the US Department of Justice concluded that some of the biggest cyber attacks in recent years -- including the North Korean attacks against Sony and the Swift banking network -- started with a simple phishing email.