HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is today warning the public about a high-profile phone scam that is conning vulnerable and elderly people out of thousands of pounds.
The scammers are preying on victims by cold-calling them and impersonating an HMRC member of staff. They tell them that they owe large amounts of tax which they can only pay off through digital vouchers and gift cards, including those used 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.
The scammers frequently use intimidation to get what they want, threatening to seize the victim’s property or involve the police. The use of vouchers is an attractive scam as they are easy to sell on and hard to trace once used. HMRC would never request the settling of debt through such a method.
The scam continues to hit a large number of people. Figures from Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud-reporting centre, show that between the beginning of 2016 and August this year, there have been more than 1,500 reports of this scam, with the numbers increasing in recent months. The vast majority of the victims are aged over 65 and suffered an average financial loss of £1,150 each.
HMRC is working closely with law enforcement agencies, Apple and campaign groups to make sure the public know how to spot the scam and to whom to report it.
HMRC’s director general of customer services, Angela MacDonald, said: “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.”
Chief Executive of Tax Help for Older People, Gary Millner, said: “Tax Help for Older People fully supports HMRC in tackling this particularly wicked scam. We have taken too many calls from people who have fallen foul of it. The amounts of money lost are significant for some and the feelings of helplessness, violation and embarrassment are immense.”