HM Revenue and Customs has introduced new controls to stop fraudsters spoofing the tax authority’s most recognisable helpline numbers.
There has been an increase in fraudsters mimicking legitimate HMRC helpline numbers in order to dupe people of their cash, with over 100,000 phone scams reported last year.
Taxpayers have been receiving calls from fake HMRC numbers which appear to be genuine after being checked online.
HMRC says the measures will prevent 'spoofing' of its most-used inbound helpline numbers but warns criminals may still try and use less credible numbers to deploy their scams.
Financial secretary to the Treasury, Jesse Norman MP, says it is a “huge step forward in the fight against phone fraud”.
He adds: “HMRC’s new controls will help to protect thousands of hardworking taxpayers and their families from these heartless criminals.
“Vigilance will always be important but this is a significant blow to the phone cheats.”
The new controls have been created in partnership with the telecommunications industry and Ofcom.
HMRC says it has reduced the number of phone scams spoofing genuine inbound numbers 'to zero' since the controls were introduced in April this year.
Head of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, says: “Phone calls are one of the top ways for fraudsters to make contact with their victims. Between April 2018 and March 2019, one in four phishing reports made to Action Fraud were about fraudulent phone calls.
“It is encouraging to see that 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.”
Criminals often target the elderly and vulnerable using HMRC’s brand as it is well-known and adds credibility to a fraudster’s call.
HMRC will only ever call you asking for payment on a debt that you are already aware of, either having received a letter about it, or after you have told them you owe some tax, for example through a self-assessment return.
If you are doubt about who you are speaking to, check the number and end the call. You can contact HMRC using one of the helpline numbers or online services available from GOV.UK.
Fraudsters have been cloning phone numbers used by HMRC so that it appears as if the phone calls are genuine.
They claim to be from HMRC and say an arrest warrant has been made because of unpaid taxes or outstanding debts.
The automated message asks people to press a button on their phones to speak to someone, warning that if they don’t they could face serious legal consequences.
Known as spoofing, there has been a surge in this type of scam in recent years.
As well as cold calling, fraudsters also leave voicemails and use text messages asking victims to call back on the number provided.
When victims call back, they are told that there is a case being built against them for an outstanding debt and they must pay immediately.
What you can do to guard against the fraudsters
1) Recognise the signs - Genuine organisations, such as banks and HMRC, will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, password or bank details
2) Stay safe - Do not give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in emails you weren’t expecting
3) Take action - forward suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to firstname.lastname@example.org and texts to 60599, or contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 to report any suspicious calls or use its online fraud reporting tool
4) Check Gov.uk for information on how to avoid and report scams and recognise genuine HMRC contact