HMRC cracks down on fake phone calls spoofing taxman

HMRC has deployed new defensive controls to protect abuse of its phone lines in a bid to put an end to fraudster’s spoofing the tax authority’s most recognisable helpline numbers

The controls, created in partnership with the telecommunications industry and Ofcom, will prevent spoofing of HMRC’s most used inbound helpline numbers and are the first to be used by a government department in the UK.

Fraudsters have increasingly mimicked legitimate HMRC helpline numbers (often beginning with 0300) to dupe taxpayers and steal money. Last year alone, HMRC received over 104,000 phone scam reports, a very substantial rise from 7,778 the previous year and just 407 in 2016/17.

The ‘spoofing’ scam worked as taxpayers would receive calls and, on checking the numbers online, would find they appeared to belong to HMRC. This often led people to believe fake calls were real and enabled fraud.

The new controls mean scammers will now be forced to use much less credible looking numbers.

Jesse Norman, financial secretary to the Treasury, said: ‘This is a huge step forward in the fight against phone fraud.

‘Vigilance will always be important but this is a significant blow to the phone cheats.’

HMRC reports that since the controls were introduced in April this year, it has reduced to zero the number of phone scams spoofing genuine inbound HMRC numbers. This has resulted in the tax authority already receiving 25% fewer scam reports against the previous month.

HMRC says it will continue to work with network providers to eradicate fraudulent numbers that are reported, and during the last 10 months has requested the removal of over 1,050 numbers from being used by scammers.

The department has also made other changes to its process to reduce the risk of scams. From June 2019, callers paying tax or debts over the phone to HMRC will enter their payment details via their phone keypad instead of supplying this verbally over the phone. The operator will remain on the call throughout while the card details are processed via the system but will not be privy to the taxpayer’s secure information.

Dawn Register, partner in tax dispute resolution at BDO said: ‘It is very concerning to learn that last year alone, HMRC received over 100,000 phone scam reports, a substantial increase from 2017-18 (7,778) and 2016-17 (407). We support and welcome Making Tax Digital, but it is clear that digitisation has created a glowing opportunity for fraudsters.

‘In recent years HMRC has begun using multiple means of communication including text, email and social media as well as phone, which provides fraudsters with further opportunities to dupe unsuspecting taxpayers.’

How can you spot a scam?

Scammers will now be forced to use much less credible looking numbers but you should still be vigilant as scammers may try spoof other numbers. Our advice for avoiding phone scams:

  • Recognise the signs – genuine organisations like banks and HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, password or bank details.
  • Stay safe – don’t give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in emails you weren’t expecting.
  • Take action – forward details of suspicious calls claiming to be from HMRC to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk and texts to 60599, or contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use their online fraud reporting tool if you suffer financial loss.
  • If you think you have received an HMRC related phishing/bogus email or text message, you can check it against the examples shown in this guide.
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