HMRC issues official warning over increasingly common scam

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is trying to raise awareness of an increasingly common cold-calling scam, which appears to be targeting vulnerable and elderly people all across the UK.

In the run-up to Christmas, the tax authority issued a press release warning members of the public to hang up on opportunistic cold-callers who impersonate HMRC officials.

The Revenue voiced concerns that such scammers are growing increasingly aggressive and “frequently using intimidation” to try and coax victims into handing over money to pay off bogus tax debts.

Specifically, fraudsters are phoning elderly and vulnerable people and informing them that they owe large amounts of tax which can only be paid off using digital vouchers and gift cards, such as Apple iTunes gift vouchers.

“Victims are told to go to a local shop, buy these vouchers and then read out the redemption code to the scammer – who has kept them on the phone the whole time,” HMRC explained.

“The conmen then sell on the codes or purchase high-value products, all at the victim’s expense.”

HMRC said that vouchers and gift cards were growing increasingly popular among scammers, as they are “easy to sell on and hard to trace once used.”

It added that many recipients of these hostile phone calls had been threatened with police action or visits from bailiffs by the person at the other end of the line.

Citing data from police crime watchdog Action Fraud, it said that the bogus phone calls were growing increasingly common all across the country – with more than 1,500 known cases recorded between January 2016 and August 2017 alone.

“The vast majority of the victims are aged over 65 and [have] suffered an average financial loss of £1,150 each,” HMRC said.

A spokesperson described the scammers as “very confident, convincing and utterly ruthless.”

Moore Thompson are advising our clients to hang-up the phone if ever they receive any suspicious calls purporting to be from the tax authority, as HMRC itself will never use a telephone call to request the settling of a debt.

Similarly, if any unsolicited emails or text messages are received, these are usually best ignored. If in doubt, consult HMRC’s guidance on how to spot genuine contact here.