Fraudsters are cloning Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs contact numbers to help pass scam attempts off as ‘legitimate’ it has warned.
The aim is to then steal thousands of pounds from unsuspecting victims who go on to believe the ruse – and This is Money has received examples of this happening.
Criminals call potential victims using Voice over Internet Protocol technologies to copy the taxman number (usually 0300 200 3300) and cruelly pass themselves off as HMRC employees that are conducting audits and catching out tax evaders.
Readers have written to This is Money telling how they have lost thousands of pounds to criminals purporting to be calling from the HMRC
They tell their target they haven’t paid their taxes in previous years and they need to make an immediate transfer of the ‘outstanding’ monies, or risk legal action and prison.
Some smartphones even display that the number comes from the HMRC making the scam more believable to people who then transfer money to criminals out of fear.
If the victim isn’t home or doesn’t answer the phone, the scammers aren’t put off.
They often leave voice messages or send emails purporting to be from the HMRC and demanding immediate call backs.
An HMRC spokesperson told This is Money: ‘We are well aware that fraudsters are trying to spoof our real numbers in order to legitimatise their crimes. We encourage people, as with any scam, to be vigilant.
‘We will never call you out of the blue asking for money. If you’re in doubt, you can put the phone down and call us back.
‘You can report this scam to email@example.com or Action Fraud at 0300 123 2040. All our phone numbers are listed on gov.uk if people want to call us.’
HSBC: The bank says scammers are expert manipulators and use a range of techniques to find and use public and private information about their victims
Reports of a surge in taxman number cloning comes after our report last week in which a mum of two lost £2,900 from her HSBC savings,
It came after a scammer persuaded her that he was calling from the HMRC and threatened her with legal action and arrest.
Another reader from Surrey wrote in soon after our report conveying a similar story of how his wife was targeted by ‘HMRC’ fraudsters and lost more than £2,400.
Beat the Scammers
In 2016, This is Money launched its Beat the Scammers section, in a bid to help readers stay one step ahead of the latest fraud trends.
This HMRC prison scam is yet another example of how criminals adapt and attempt to play on fear in order to deceive people out of their hard-earned cash.
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She also banks with HSBC.
He said: ‘My wife has just last week been involved in the exact same scam, and some of the similarities are really terrifying.
‘I finished early last week and got home to find my wife and daughter both crying.
He added: ‘My wife was on the phone and refused to tell me what was happening other than she was being investigated for tax evasion by HMRC, and that she was being monitored and wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone else about the case as it would break the terms of their agreement.
‘I eventually managed to convince her that this could not be genuine, but by that point the damage had already been done.
‘They had been keeping her on the phone to make sure the payment she had made (£2,486) earlier on had gone through.’
A HSBC UK spokesperson said: ‘Scammers are expert manipulators and use a range of techniques to find and use public and private information about their victims, both before and during contact with them, without them realising.
My wife was on the phone and refused to tell me what was happening other than she was being investigated for tax evasion by HMRC.
‘They then use this information within different scenarios to convince people that a bank transfer is necessary and make it appear plausible and legitimate.
‘In this case, there’s nothing to suggest the scammer already had access to specific financial information about the customer.
‘After being notified of the scam we acted quickly to contact the receiving bank, making it aware of the transaction in question and the suspected fraudulent activity.
‘It is then up to the receiving bank to investigate and return funds to the customer.’
Number spoofing is a fairly simple technique for fraudsters. They clone the telephone number of an organisation they wish to impersonate and make it appear on the caller ID display seen by their intended victim.
Websites that offer this type of service are easy to find.
The scammer gains trust by drawing attention to the number on the display and uses this as proof of identity in order to disguise the fraud.
Many may not realise how easy it is for a fraudster to make a telephone number appear it is coming from a bank or a government organisation.
HMRC tips on how to identify a scam
· 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 suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to email@example.com and texts to 60599, or contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 to report any suspicious calls or use their online fraud reporting tool.
· HMRC debt management teams do contact members of the public by phone about paying outstanding debts.
· If a customer isn’t confident that the call is from HMRC, it will ask them to call back. Depending on the circumstances and to give the customer confidence it is actually HMRC calling, information may be disclosed to the caller which only HMRC is party to.
· Calls from the majority of HMRC offices will leave caller identification data, i.e. the number the caller has used to contact you from.
· For up to date advice on scam HMRC phone calls, visit GOV.UK.
· HMRC will call people about outstanding tax bills, and sometimes use automated messages, however this would include your taxpayer reference number. If you are uncertain of the caller hang up and call HMRC directly to check – you can confirm our call centre numbers on GOV.UK if you are unsure. For tax credits it does not include your details in any voicemail messages.