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.