Breakthrough in fight against HMRC phone fraudsters

New defensive controls deployed by HMRC have put an end to criminals spoofing the tax authority’s most recognisable helpline numbers.

The fraudsters have increasingly mimicked legitimate HMRC helpline numbers (often beginning with 0300) in order to dupe taxpayers and steal money. There has been a huge increase in the number of reported phone scam. In 2018/19 there were 104,774 reports, a huge jump on the previous 12-month period (7,778 reports). In 2017/18 there were just 407 such reports.

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, 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 United Kingdom.

Criminals may still try and use less credible numbers to deploy their scams – but that means they will be easier to spot.

Head of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, said: “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.”

Since the controls were introduced in April this year, HMRC 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 compared with the previous month.

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