Watch out: 'HMRC scammers' are back conning taxpayers

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I don’t think that any client could conceivably suggest that their accountant has responsibility for stopping them from making fools of themselves.

Having said that, where there is a chance of providing an additional service that costs us almost nothing but could save them thousands, this is an opportunity to provide that added value clients always appreciate.

Most readers will probably be aware that there are increasing numbers of fraudsters attempting to steal money from the vulnerable in a variety of ways. A friend of mine was recently conned out of a five-figure sum by somebody claiming to represent HSBC. Thankfully, he got his money back.

From our perspective, the most worrying new development is the use of the very respectable HMRC name to perpetrate such thefts. While, at times, we are all tempted to angrily share the view that HMRC is robbing us blind, that is not exactly how they work.

It is exactly what these people are doing. The scams take a number of forms, although letters have now apparently become old hat. It is much more likely that initial contact will be made via email, social media or a telephone call.

The Daily Mail investigative team has uncovered a call centre-scale fraud operation located not in Birmingham, Glasgow or even the Outer Hebrides but Ahmedabad, which for the geographically ignorant is in India. While the newspaper plays up the Asian aspect, it also notes that the vast majority of such scams appear to emanate from within our own shores.

In this case, a team that exclusively appears to comprise young men masquerading as officers of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. It seems that rather than getting bank details on the back of an offer to facilitate an impending tax repayment, their methodology is considerably more sinister and threatening.

Using little more than a phonebook (a good reason to go ex-directory), some not especially sophisticated technological know-how and the Indian equivalent to chutzpah, they telephone randomly selected individuals on the basis that they might be taxpayers and gullible.

Their message is very simple: you owe HMRC money and if it is not paid immediately, we will send the boys round. To use slightly more measured language, they threaten legal action, freezing bank accounts etc.

The initial goal is to persuade shocked taxpayers to part with large sums of money via electronic transfer. Adding insult to injury, they frequently claim that the first payment did not go through and demand the same again, thus getting twice as much before they are rumbled.

Apparently, for those that are unable to make electronic transfers, the scammers helpfully provide an opportunity to pay cash directly into some kind of lockbox. It does beggar belief that anyone would fall for this element of what otherwise sounds at least vaguely plausible.

As stated at the beginning of this article, accountants do not need to have any involvement in such a situation.

However, this might be a good time to make contact with all of your clients, informing them of any and every variant of taxman scan that you can think of. In particular, you may wish to emphasise that if there is a problem, clients should refer it to you. In doing so, it will be necessary to accept that you may not always be able to charge a fee for helping. As a quid pro quo, you will generate a great deal of goodwill, possibly leading directly to additional fees or, at worst, a chance of referrals.

It would also be good if all accountants and professional bodies could do their best to share this message as widely as possible, in a bid to close down any and every fraud of this type.

About Philip Fisher

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By Jholm
20th Mar 2019 17:24

I had a call myself recently from an automated "HMRC-bot" claiming to be from the fraud department... If I did not press 1, they claimed I would be arrested. Sadly, the line cut out before I could have any fun with it.

Day 6 now and still no police have arrived.....

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21st Mar 2019 15:46

You set a very high bar for geographical competence, sir.

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22nd Mar 2019 10:43

I've had 2 clients in recent months who have been advised that there is a warrant out for their arrest in relation to an HMRC debt. Thankfully both contacted me for reassurance before taking any action. If only all clients were that sensible...

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22nd Mar 2019 11:53

I shall be telling clients to beware. There are so many scams going round and busy clients could easily be conned. One of the latest we have seen concerns PAYE payments and has the HMRC logo all over it. Pretty unsophisticated as it has a spurious e mail return address but who, in a hurry, would necessarily check this. I would rather reassure a client now than have to help them clear up the mess later.

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22nd Mar 2019 12:07

Far too easy for the scammers to open and use bank accounts.

How about making any bank that opened the receiving account being made to repay the fraud?

Similar to reversing credit card payments.

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02nd Apr 2019 16:26

A client had one of these calls, put the phone down on them and called me to ask if it was a scam. I told her yes, and if they call again, give them my details. (They haven't called)
Same day, another client got a call, very aggressive and threatening, unfortunately client didn't get to me in time. Called me afterwards and I urged calling bank and credit card co to freeze both and check recent debits, then make full report to Police. Luckily, it was sorted before fraudulent transaction went through. Both were close shaves, but at least the scammers didn't succeed. Neither client spooks easily, so it shows you how aggressive scammer no 2 must have been.

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