HMRC has moved to block a widespread fraud technique where calls appeared to come from genuine tax department call centre numbers.
AccountingWEB member mbee1 reported getting an automated call on the office voicemail that sounded very similar to the standard PPI or ambulance-chasing personal injury spam calls: “Hello, this is a message for the customer or authorised representative of reference number 12345 67890, please call HMRC back on 0300 XXX XXXX.”
Anyone checking the numbers would see them linked to HMRC and be less on their guard about ringing back.
During the past year, HMRC reported that it had logged more than 100,000 phone scam reports: an astonishing rise from almost zero over the past three years:
- 2016/17 – 407 reports
- 2017/18 – 7,778 reports
- 2018/19 – 104,774 reports
The department has been working with network providers to block fraudulent “spoofing” of its phone numbers. More than 1,050 such numbers have been eliminated during the past 10 months.
Defences taking effect
In April, the number of phone scams spoofing genuine inbound HMRC numbers was virtually eliminated, contributing to a 25% reduction in fraud reports compared to March.
HMRC head of action fraud Pauline Smith said: “These newly developed controls by HMRC have already achieved a reduction in the number of calls spoofing genuine HMRC numbers. If you believe you have fallen victim to a fraudster, please report it to Action Fraud.”
As part of its anti-fraud policy, HMRC advised that it will only ever call to ask for payment on outstanding debts that taxpayers are already aware of, either via letter or reporting liabilities on their self assessment return.
The department has also instituted changes so that no one will need to read card details to an operator over the phone.
On the day before January’s self assessment deadline, AccountingWEB members discussed another spoof HMRC call and made the point that it’s a bad idea to reply in any way to such approaches.
In some cases, if you press 1 in response to the call’s instructions, you can end up being connected to a premium line number charging £35 per minute.
About John Stokdyk
AccountingWEB’s Head of Insight has been with the site since 1999 and likes to spend his time studying accountants’ technology habits. When not nerding out, you can find him exploring obscure indie music and searching for the perfect organic sourdough loaf from his base in Brighton, UK.