HMRC Self Assessment Scam Warning

HMRC has issued a warning to those completing Self Assessment tax returns for 31 January not to be caught out by SMS messages and email scams purporting to be from HMRC.

Bogus

An upturn in scams using HMRC’s name has meant that in the last 12 months, HMRC has responded to more than 846,000 referrals of suspicious HMRC contacts from the public, and reported over 15,500 malicious web pages to internet service providers to be taken down. HMRC also reports that around 500,000 of the referrals from the public offered bogus tax rebates.

Personal Information and Bank Details Sought

Bogus HMRC scams, like all other scams, are designed as an easy way to get money, personal information, and bank details.  With the current bogus HMRC scams, the promise of a refund is the carrot being used to tempt victims to part with personal details and the threat/stick of a fictitious tax bill that needs to be paid is being used to extract fast money.

HMRC warns that criminals are also using the personal information gathered in the scam to access bank details or to sell on to other criminals, thereby increasing the risk of being targeted in more scams and attacks.

What Do The Scams Look Like?

Examples of recent HMRC scam texts and emails show that customers are informed that they have a pending tax refund/rebate or must review a document relating to an application for a rebate.  In both cases, customers are invited to click on a link.  This link directs the customer to a phishing website made to look like the UK government website.  Examples of these and also of recent COVID-related scams are shown on the real UK government website here.

Never, Never

HMRC is keen to point out that it NEVER:

– Sends notifications by email about tax rebates or refunds.

– Asks for personal or financial information in text messages.

– Uses ‘WhatsApp’ to contact customers about a tax refund. This is in response to a scam using WhatsApp recently.

– Uses social media to offer a tax rebate or to request personal or financial information. This is in response to a scam using Twitter recently.

Other HMRC-Focused Scams

HMRC has also highlighted another popular scam whereby a recorded call tells the recipient that HMRC is filing a lawsuit against them and that they need to press a number on the keypad to speak to a caseworker to make a payment.

What To Do

HMRC advises that recipients of these texts, emails, and calls should not reply, not click on any links, and not give any personal or financial details.  Instead, recipients should send any phishing text messages to 60599 (network charges apply), and report full details of the scam emails, texts, WhatsApp and social media messages by email to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk. All scam messages should also be deleted from the recipient’s phone or email account as soon as possible.

Those who have fallen victim to this or other scams where there has been a financial loss should contact Action Fraud.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Scammers are always ready to exploit fears and desires and this scam plays on both.  Essentially though, this is a phishing scam and phishing emails tend to have elements that give them away if the recipient can resist an immediate emotional response. In the case of this scam, and aside from the knowledge that HMRC does not communicate with customers in this way, the fact that it is unexpected, asks for money/personal information/bank details and is threatening should set alarm bells ringing. Other ways that phishing emails can be spotted include generic greetings (scammers are less likely to personalise), grammar/spelling mistakes, heavy emotional appeals that urge you to act immediately, and anomalies in the email address that a spam email has come from, or in the domain of the link to click on.  Businesses should ensure that staff are made aware of the risk of phishing emails, how to spot them and what to do/what not to do (not clicking on links in emails).  This is particularly important at a time when many staff are working from home and businesses should ensure that staff are kept firmly in the loop about security policy, security best practice, and current threats.

Apple to Pay £85 Million For ‘Batterygate’ Scandal

Apple is to pay $113m (£85m) to put an end to the ‘Batterygate’ scandal, where the company was accused of deliberately slowing down iPhone batteries to prompt users into buying a new iPhone.

What Happened?

Back in 2017, some iPhone users were sharing concerns online that their iPhone’s performance had slowed with age but had sped up after a battery replacement. This led to a customer sharing comparative performance tests of different models of the iPhone 6S on Reddit, which appeared to support the customer suspicions.

Technology website Geeknebench also shared the results of its own tests of several iPhones running different versions of the iOS operating system where some showed slower performance than others.

After customers concerns mounted and received more press, Apple publicly admitted that it had made changes one year earlier in the iOS 10.2.1 software update that is likely to have been responsible for the slowdown that customers may have experienced in iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 7, and iPhone SE.  The slowing affected millions of people with thirty-three U.S states claiming that Apple had caused the battery-slowing to encourage battery replacement and new phone purchases.

Apple issued an apology to customers in January 2018 but said that motivation for slowing the batteries was a desire to prolong the life of customer devices by managing their ageing lithium-ion batteries and preventing the inconvenience of a sudden and unexpected shutdown.

Settlement

This latest $113m (£85m) settlement is on top of the $500m that Apple agreed in March to pay to affected iPhone owners as a result of a class-action lawsuit. Although Apple has not admitted to deliberate wrongdoing it has agreed to be more transparent over the next 3 years about iPhone power management.

Other Woes

Apple is also being sued by Epic Games in Australia after Epic’s popular and lucrative ‘Fortnite’ game was removed from the Apple App Store in August after it bypassed Apple’s (and Google’s) in-app payment method, thereby depriving the tech giant(s) of the revenue.  Epic has long complained about having to pay between 15 and 30 per cent of transactions made through apps on iOS, and Android.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The whole debacle over appearing to keep quiet about something that essentially appeared to take away performance that customers had paid for and apparently prompt them to spend more money with Apple to fix it, and the obvious financial gain by Apple appears to have been a trust-damaging blot on Apple’s copybook.  It is no surprise then, that Apple is reaching financial settlements and, no doubt, the trillion-dollar company will be hoping to move on quickly.  It should not be forgotten, however, that whatever the reason for the phone-slowing update, it appears to have caused considerable disruption to the service that many customers had paid for, many of whom are likely to have needed their phones for important business matters.  It was a shock to many customers, who chose Apple for many positive reasons and trusted the brand, that anything like this could have happened and this matter is an example of how managing customer relationships in an age where information is shared quickly and widely by customers via the Internet involves making smart decisions about transparency and being seen to be up-front with loyal customers.

Featured Article – The Difference Between Cloud Backup and Cloud Storage

This article looks at the difference between cloud backup and cloud storage and how each contributes to daily business life; business continuity and disaster recovery.

The Need For Storage

Businesses not only have limited hard drive space, plus they are having to deal with an increasing amount of data (primary and secondary), comply with stricter data regulations (GDPR) and are facing more security threats i.e. more criminals working in more sophisticated ways to steal company data.  In addition to these challenges, as highlighted by 2020’s pandemic, more businesses have employees in different locations (working from home) but who still need work apps and data and information to be stored, synchronised, made secure and yet be accessible for work use (and for collaboration). 

With this in mind, some of the reasons why cloud storage is now not only popular but vital for businesses include:

– It avoids the risk of data being lost to hardware/server failure/damage, outages and/or file corruption, the effects of environmental/natural disasters e.g. fire and flood, or damage to/theft of storage media e.g. USB drives or external hard drives.

– Cost efficiency. Cloud storage is relatively cost-efficient and the expense and responsibility of upgrading the storage hardware, data-centres and more rests with the cloud provider.  Also, the customer saves in terms of expertise required in-house and resources (time and staff) that would have been needed to maintain its own cloud storage.

– Lower energy consumption. The energy savings of using the cloud add to the efficiencies mentioned above and can help bring ‘green’ benefits.

– Scalability and flexibility. It is relatively easy and fast to up-scale (or down-scale) in cloud storage capacity.

– Usability and accessibility. Cloud services typically come with an easy-to-use user interface and drag and drop, and help/support is available. With cloud storage, data can be accessed from any device and any part of the world. 

– Increased capabilities. Cloud platforms and the apps and flexible storage that they support can boost a company’s capabilities thereby contributing to its competitiveness.

– Synchronisation. Cloud storage data can be synchronised with any device.

– Centralisation and better control.  Having a centralised, synchronised, up to date copy that everyone can work on enables better data management and helps with day to day efficiency.

– Automation and convenience. Cloud storage only requires clicks from the customer rather than having to set up and swap around hardware solutions (removable hard drives or USBs).

– Supports multiple users. The same cloud environment can have more than one usage and it allows multiple users to work collaboratively on a common file.

– Security. Cloud storage provides compliant (GDPR), safe and secure storage for company data.

The Need For Backup

Things can (and often do) go wrong with company systems, data, platforms, and hardware. Theft, loss, natural disasters, cyber-attacks, data breaches, important 3rd supplier failure or the loss of key employees, and less serious digital events that cause business disruption mean that companies need to ensure, for the purposes of business continuity and disaster recovery, that recent backup (copy) of data is available. Backups are essential files that enable a full restore, and as such are an important element of ongoing good practice. The cloud also offers a convenient backup location for the apps that the business uses as these are also vital parts of the day-to-day running of a business. Although the Cloud is not the only way to back up data i.e. store a copy of data, it is now the preferred method for many of reasons mentioned in the previous section (about cloud storage).

The Difference

The basic difference between cloud backup and cloud storage is, therefore, that cloud backup is a service where data and apps on a business’s servers are backed up on a remote server so that a recent copy can be reinstated in the event of problems such as an outage, system failure, a debilitating cyberattack or natural disaster i.e. it provides a way for files to be restored in the event of data loss. Cloud backup is therefore strongly linked to business continuity and disaster recovery (and the plans for both).

Cloud storage is really a way to supplement and give greater flexibility to the business’s hard drive space and make it easier to access and edit files from different devices, from any location.

Cloud Types

The different types of cloud storage offer different benefits and businesses can choose which type or which combination suits their needs. For example:

– The Private Cloud (internal/enterprise cloud), as the name suggests, is inside the organisation, the resources are not shared with other organisations and are protected from the outside by a firewall.

– The Public Cloud is available to all, mainly paid-for, through third-party services from providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and more, and the resources are shared with multiple other public cloud users. Public cloud services are now extremely popular with businesses. Research by the Synergy Research Group (2019) shows that cloud-associated markets, such as the public cloud, are growing at rates ranging from 10% to over 40% and the annual spending on the cloud may double in four years.  Big growth cloud infrastructure segments are infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) with a massive 44% growth rate. 

– The Hybrid Cloud is, therefore, a mixture of on-premises, private cloud and third-party, public cloud services, with cross-over between the two.

Remote Working

The remote working resulting from the pandemic restrictions has now only emphasised the value of the cloud for storage, backup, communication and collaborative working but this has also translated into a big boost in spending on the public cloud and this is forecast to grow by 6.3 per cent in 2020 to $257.9bn, up from $242.7bn last year (Gartner).

Although software as a service (SaaS) is expected remain the largest market segment, the desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) segment, although relatively small, is forecast to experience a boost in spending (from $616m worldwide in 2019) due to the fact that it offers an inexpensive way for organisations with large numbers of remote workers to enable staff to securely access enterprise applications from multiple devices and locations.  This has proven to be particularly valuable during the lockdown and beyond. 

In Summary

Cloud storage, therefore, provides many benefits over more traditional, less secure or scalable alternatives and use of the cloud also makes it easier for businesses to ensure that valuable work and data assets are backed-up effectively and regularly just in case they are needed. One lesson that this year has taught businesses is that the unexpected can happen and this emphasises not just the value of the cloud to business operations, but also the value of the cloud to business continuity, disaster recovery planning and how cloud backups feed into these.

Carbon Pollution From Your Emails

A Financial Times report based on work by Tim Berners-Lee has highlighted how sending fewer emails could help tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions.

Emails and Carbon Production

The idea from Tim Berners-Lee, referenced also by Ovo Energy, is that although emails appear to be more environmentally friendly than using paper, a lot of energy is expended (and carbon produced) in order to allow emails to be used.  For example, for emails to be written and sent energy must be used by servers, home wi-fi, and a laptop.  Also, the carbon emitted to construct data-centre buildings could also be taken into when assessing the environmental impact of email as this represents significant greenhouse gas (carbon) production.

How Much?

Although each individual email is likely to be responsible for producing an incredibly small amount of carbon as a proportion of the 435.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses produced by the UK last year, there is likely to be a cumulative impact. This impact is likely to be made greater by the sending of “unnecessary” emails.

For example, Ovo Energy commissioned (Censuswide) research shows that the 64 million “unnecessary” emails sent every day could be responsible for contributing 23,475 tonnes of carbon a year to the UK’s carbon footprint. Unnecessary emails are categorised as those sent to friends within talking distance, or those containing replies such as ‘thank you’, ‘thanks’, ‘received’, and similar.

Polluting Anyway?

There is, of course, and argument that whether sending emails or not, having laptops, computers, Wi-Fi routers (and more) switched on all the time is contributing anyway to the production of carbon and that separating out the individual contribution of emails is difficult. It could also be argued that game and video streaming and cloud storage have more of a negative impact than sending emails.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Many bigger businesses and big tech businesses try, where possible, to reduce any obvious environmental impact but also rely upon carbon offsetting and the funding of environmental projects.  Google, for example, says that, due to carbon offsetting, it became carbon neutral in 2007, has now compensated for all of the carbon it has ever created and plans to run all of its data centres on carbon-free energy by 2030. Organisations such as Friends of the Earth which points out that “in most cases, it seems clear that carbon offsetting doesn’t work in practice” and Greenpeace which says that “the way out of the climate emergency is just not that simple” and that “Offsetting projects simply don’t deliver what we need” are clearly more sceptical about offsetting.

Reducing the numbers of “unnecessary” emails sent sounds like a good, time-saving and hopefully, energy-saving idea anyway, but businesses clearly need to look at the bigger picture and concentrate more on higher-impact elements too.

Tech Tip – Windows 10 Emoji/Kaomoji Keyboard

If you would like a fast and easy way to include emojis in your writing or get access to a free resource of extra graphics when using Windows 10, you may not know that Windows 10 now has an integrated emoji and Kaomoji keyboard. Here’s how to find it:

To load the emoji/kaomoji keyboard:

– Press the Windows key + ;

– Click on the icons at the bottom of the emoji window to reveal lots of colourful emojis in each category.

– These emojis can also be used as graphics in documents by highlighting them and increasing the font size.