HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have put new defensive controls in place to put an end to fraudsters spoofing the tax authority’s most recognisable helpline numbers.

Fraudsters have increasingly mimicked legitimate HMRC helpline numbers (often beginning with 0300) to dupe taxpayers and steal money. Last year alone, HMRC received over 100,000 phone scam reports.

How the scam works

HMRC have long warned about fake tax related scam calls. Fraudsters posing as HMRC use many different tactics to extract money from victims. However, HMRC say that there has been a sharp rise in the amount of scam calls being made to victims over the past six months. One scam that is of particular concern to them, involves scammers ringing victims and telling them they are about to be arrested if they don’t pay up immediately.

The fraudster will ask them to confirm personal details, like postcode and names and then demanding an amount be paid to them immediately. If the victim protests the fraudster will have a series of worrying explanations at the ready to convince people, this is a real threat. A number of complaints from victims, details how they are then told that police will be despatched to their address immediately if they do not comply with making an immediate payment.

Many vulnerable people have fallen victim to this scam over the previous six months and persuaded into handing over their bank account and credit card details. £1,000’s are then taken from individual victim’s accounts and filtered through various bank accounts abroad. Another reason the calls seem so legitimate is because the fraudsters use technology known as Spoofing, which enables them to display the legitimate number for HMRC to the caller.

How HMRC are tackling the problem

The new controls which were created in partnership with the telecommunications industry and Ofcom, will prevent fraudsters spoofing HMRC’s most used inbound helpline numbers and are the first to be used by a government department in the UK. Criminals may still try and use less credible numbers to deploy their scams, but that actually makes them easier to spot.

Financial Secretary to the treasury, Jesse Norman MP, Said: “This is a huge step forward in the fight against phone fraud. HMRC’s new controls will help to protect thousands of hardworking taxpayers and their families from these heartless criminals. Vigilance will always be important but this is a significant blow to the phone cheats.”

Since the controls were introduced in April this year, HMRC has reduced to zero the number of phone scams spoofing genuine inbound HMRC numbers. This has resulted in the tax authority already receiving 25% fewer scam reports against the previous month. HMRC will continue to work with network providers to eradicate fraudulent numbers that are reported, and during the last 10 months has requested the removal of over 1,050 numbers from being used by scammers. Criminals often target the elderly and vulnerable using HMRC’s brand as it is well known and adds credibility to a fraudster’s call, though this will now be significantly harder to do.

How to spot a scam

Thanks to HMRC’s controls, scammers will now be forced to use much less credible looking numbers but you should still be vigilant as scammers may try spoof other numbers. Action Fraud offers the following advice:

  • recognise the signs – genuine organisations like banks and HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, password or bank details
  • stay safe – don’t give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in emails you weren’t expecting
  • take action – forward details of suspicious calls claiming to be from HMRC to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk and texts to 60599, or contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use their online fraud reporting tool if you suffer financial loss
  • check GOV.UK for how to avoid and report scams and recognise genuine HMRC contact
  • listen to an example of what a phone scam sounds like on Twitter
  • If you think you have received an HMRC related phishing or bogus email or text message, you can check it against examples.
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