HMRC impersonation scams have increased by 138 per cent in a year, new research has revealed.
This type of fraud is also likely to soar in the coming weeks as the self assessment deadline is fast approaching, according to Santander.
It found that claims had increased by over twofold in the first three months of 2020 when compared to the same time in 2021, highlighting a significant increase.
i takes a look at how the scam works and what you can do to protect yourself.
How the scam works
Fraudsters contact the customer through email, text, phone or WhatsApp and claim to be from HMRC, the police or a court.
The contact details, such as the caller ID, can be easily made to appear genuine through number spoofing.
The scammer claims the customer owes the HMRC money and provides a link for them to complete their details and pay the money ‘owing’, in order to avoid further penalties such as a fine or even a custodial sentence.
In other instances, consumers are told they are due a tax rebate and HMRC requires their personal details in order to make payment.
In both instances, the fraudster will try and rush the customer to act immediately and often uses fear to put pressure on the customer.
Once the customer has either shared their details or made the payment this can be the end of the scam.
However, some are then contacted again by the fraudster, but this time impersonating the customer’s bank’s fraud team, using the personal details they previously shared.
They are informed they have been the victim of an HMRC scam and are advised their account is compromised before being told they need to transfer their money to a new ‘safe’ account, resulting in the customer losing even more money,
Chris Ainsley, Head of Fraud Control at Santander UK, said: “By taking on the persona of the HMRC, criminals are trying to intimidate their victims by impersonating an institution that most of us recognise and trust.
“With the February extension to the self-assessment deadline fast approaching, we expect to see a significant increase in HMRC scams over the coming weeks. Don’t let criminals get away with it. Always check with HMRC directly before acting.”
The news comes at a time when WhatsApp scams are also on the rise with many falling victim to the impersonation fraud in which scam artists will pretend to be someone’s child before asking for money.
How to protect yourself
Customers are urged to never make a payment to HMRC if they contact you out of the blue, even if you’re threatened with police or court action.
Instead, always check what you owe or are owed directly with HMRC on the Government website.
People are also told not to rely on the caller ID or email name as identification as these details can be easily falsified by fraudsters (known as spoofing) to appear as if they’re from HMRC or any other organisation.
Stop and think before taking any action. Never be pressurised into sharing personal or financial information with anyone.
A genuine bank or organisation will never contact you to ask you to move money to another account.
If in doubt, hang up and call your bank on the number on the back of your card or dial 159 if you think there’s a chance you’re being scammed.