Businesses have been warned to beware of highly realistic scam emails purporting to be from HMRC, on the day the Government's Job Retention Scheme goes live online.

Lanop Accountancy Group reports that cybercriminals are targeting business owners using official HMRC branding with an email purporting to be from "Jim Harra, First Permanent Secretary and Chief Executive of HMRC". Around 50 business owners have so far reported receiving the suspicious emails after noticing the email was sent via the address no-reply@ncryptedprojects.com, despite its user title being "HM Revenue & Customs".

The email asks for the bank account details of the recipient and claims to be explaining how to access the COVID-19 relief. It states: "You will need to tell your 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 genuine scheme can now be found through gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme.

Recent research from cyber security company Barracuda Networks has suggested that coronavirus-related phishing emails have risen by 667% since the start of March. The scams included fraudulent communication purporting to be from the World Health Organisation and the NHS and private health suppliers selling facemasks and other personal protection equipment (PPE).

Aurangzaib Chawla FCCA, managing partner of Lanop Accountancy Group commented: "We're calling upon all businesses to think twice before handing over bank details and making bank transfers in response to email requests during this crisis. Cybercrime 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. We are also offering free advice about how to tackle these scams and reporting any suspicious activity direct to HMRC."

Chris Ross of Barracuda Networks added: "We’re seeing a sharp rise in phishing emails relating to the COVID-19 outbreak and this example underlines how hackers will prey upon vulnerable business owners who are trying to protect jobs.

"As always with these scams, the victim is encouraged to disclose personal data and financial information under the false assumption that the email is legitimate. It is absolutely vital that businesses have the cybersecurity systems in place to identify and quarantine phishing emails and ensure that every employee is properly trained to spot suspicious communication and think twice before giving out personal information."