Hello, Customer – Stay Safe Online

I’ve had a couple of e-mails recently, claiming to be from big names that provide services to me, yet neither addresses me by name, so the advice is to treat them as suspicious/bogus. However, I’m pretty certain they are legitimate, the first one at least, which leads me to be frustrated by the irresponsibleness of these two:

  • Microsoft
  • HM Revenue & Customs

First up, “Microsoft” e-mailed me, simply with “Hello” followed by the news that they are updating their Service Agreement*. The e-mail doesn’t go into specifics but instead provides me with various links to click on – no summary about the changes in the e-mail itself. You’d think by now, since I’ve had an e-mail account with them for little short of twenty years, that they’d know my name and perhaps contact me in tones akin to that of a faithful friend, or at least with some zeal and passion and the occasional exclamation mark as other online services do. Microsoft’s dull tones surely don’t bode well for the Service Agreement’s contents. The e-mail does at least end with “Thank you for using Microsoft products and services.” Perhaps this was added as an afterthought.

*I did follow the link to the Service Agreement… it’s a good 30 pages long if you’re up for the read.

Next up came the HM Revenue & Customs e-mail. It is quite common for me to receive bogus e-mails claiming to be from HMRC but the give-away is that these don’t refer to me by name, whereas legitimate ones do. Until now it seemed. This one calls me Customer, which gets my bells ringing straight away, but the e-mail address it was apparently sent from (this can be faked) is the genuine HMRC one. Links throughout the e-mail seem to point to HMRC pages but they are confusing because they are long and spurious, so one can’t be 100% certain at a glance; only copying and pasting the link reveals the likely hidden agenda. The further annoyance in this e-mail (should it be genuine) is that it is all about “If you’re new to self-employment or considering starting your own business HMRC’s online support can help…” Beyond the fact that HMRC knows my name (and usually uses it), it also knows all about my self-employment status and how long this has been the case. This e-mail does have at the end of it the option to report it to HMRC as a phishing e-mail, so this I shall do; either the e-mail is indeed fake or it is genuine and someone (Alison Walsh*) at HMRC should get it in the neck for sending out ill-considered e-mails.

*Alison Walsh is apparently Head of Digital Support for Business and Agents. But of course anyone knowing this could include this signature in an e-mail.

[EDIT] HMRC e-mailed me back to say the e-mail was genuine, so I still wonder why they refer to me as “Customer” and talk to me like they don’t know my self-employment status. Perhaps other people will forward these e-mails to their phishing department so they can address how they communicate with their “customers”.

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