The national fraud and security reporting service Action Fraud is warning of scammers contacting people claiming to be from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC.
The fraudsters are using a variety of ways to target victims, including asking for payment in iTunes gift card voucher codes. This method is popular as the vouchers can be easily redeemed and then sold on. The physical card isn’t needed to obtain the value, victims are being persuaded to read the codes out over the phone.
The targets are often pensioners, who are informed that they have an outstanding debt that can be cleared if they provide payment. One 87-year-old man was told an arrest warrant was out in his name and asked to provide £500 in iTunes gift cards from Tesco to clear his name. When the scammers asked for a further amount, he became suspicious and hung up.
Other ways used to trick people are cold calls, voicemails and even text messaging. They sometimes claim that a case is being built against someone and that the outstanding debt must be paid immediately. Voicemails say that people owe HMRC unpaid taxes and will be arrested if they remain unpaid.
HMRC have said it will never use texts to inform people of penalties or tax rebates, or ask for payments in this way. On the topic of phishing emails – messages sent with the purpose of obtaining personal financial information such as credit or bank account details – it warned that extra caution should be taken when giving out any information online.
Head of Cyber Security at HMRC, Ed Tucker, said: "Phishing emails are a major focus for our Cyber Security Team.
"They’re more than just unwanted messages; they are a means by which criminals look to exploit members of the public and gain access to their personal and financial data. This in turn can lead to fraud and identity theft."
HMRC also warned that telephone numbers and text messages can easily be faked and should never automatically trust the number you see on your telephone’s display. Suspicious cold calls should be ended immediately.
HMRC has useful resources on their website on how to avoid these scams and how to report them to the authorities. Action Fraud is also looking into ways to further publicise how to protect yourself from these scams.
If you’re worried about whether communication from HMRC is genuine, read TaxAssist Accountants’ advice here.
If you have tax to pay, you can find out about the different payment methods on HMRC’s website here.