Shoppers have been warned by HMRC to beware of a phone scam that has conned vulnerable and elderly people out of thousands of pounds.
The scam sees fraudsters cold calling victims impersonating HMRC. Scammers tell victims that they owe large amounts of tax, which they can only pay off through digital vouchers and gift cards, including those for Apple’s iTunes store.
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. The conmen then sell on the codes or purchase high-value products, all at the victim’s expense.
HMRC says these scammers frequently use intimidation to get what they want, threatening to seize the victim’s property or involve the police. It adds that it would never request the settling of debt through such a method.
Figures from Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre, reveal that between the beginning of 2016 and August this year there have been over 1,500 reports of this scam, with the numbers increasing in recent months. The vast majority of victims are aged over 65 and suffered an average financial loss of £1,150 each.
HMRC’s director general of customer services, Angela MacDonald, says: “These scammers are very confident, convincing and utterly ruthless. We don’t want to see anyone fall victim to this scam just before Christmas. That’s why we’re working closely with crime fighters to ensure taxpayers know how to avoid it.
“These scams often prey on vulnerable people. We urge people with elderly relatives to warn them about this scam and remind them that they should never trust anyone who phones them out of the blue and asks them to pay a tax bill. If you think you’ve been a victim you should contact Action Fraud immediately.”
Action Fraud can be contacted on 0300 123 2040 or by using its online fraud reporting tool.
See our Scams and rip-offs section for more advice on what scams to watch out for and how to protect yourself from them.