Do HMRC contact Private Sellers through eBay?
We’ve long suspected that the HMRC e-marketplaces campaign simply scraped Business Sellers’ contact details from eBay, which is why we’d not heard from a single eBay user registered as a Private Seller who had received one of the tens of thousands of letters sent out.
Today we have heard of our first Private Seller on eBay who appears to have been contacted, but it’s all a bit strange. An eBay account with the User ID hmrcinspector was registered on the 14th of June this year and sent the following message to an eBay user:
Could you please contact HM Revenue & Customs on 0845 300 0627.
(8.00 am to 8.00 pm, Monday to Friday
8.00 am to 4.00 pm Saturday).
To discuss the income tax incurred by yourself from the sale of goods from on Ebay.
Please quote enquiry.(UK/EBAY/11X/1XX/111)* in any correspondence.
*Reference number anonymised
We have a number of concerns here at Tamebay. There’s nothing to establish whether this is actually a legitimate message from HMRC, or if it’s simply mischief making by another eBay user. We don’t have access to the back end of eBay so we don’t know the user email or registered address. We’d also love to get a sneaky look at eBay’s back end to see how many eBay messages have been sent from the hmrcinspector account but again only eBay have access to that information.
If this was a legitimate tactic by HMRC to contact suspected tax dodgers (and there’s nothing to say that the seller in question hasn’t fully paid their dues), we would have expected at the very least for there to be an eBay About Me page with full HMRC contact details so that you could verify it was legitimate.
We’d also have expected HMRC to request permission from eBay before using their site to contact eBay’s customers. Why has there been no announcement either from HMRC (or from eBay) saying that some sellers may have legitimate communications though eBay’s messaging system. If nothing else then HMRC should have confirmed with eBay that they’re not breaking the user agreement which clearly says “We do not tolerate spam (unsolicited commercial communications)” and “You may not use our communication tools to send spam”.
Of course if this is a hoax then the implications are serious for the perpetrator. HMRC say they reserve Criminal Investigation “for cases where HMRC needs to send a strong deterrent message” which includes “the impersonation of HMRC officials“. That’s a criminal matter with possible jail time and not a civil prosecution with a fine.
We’ll let you know if we hear whether this is legitimate of if it is a hoax. If it’s a hoax then hopefully appropriate steps will be taken. If it’s legitimate then top marks to HMRC for attempting to tax businesses masquerading as Private Sellers, but they need to ensure that their communications are unquestionably authentic.