The news that HMRC is to crack down on ‘number-spoofing’ is timely – here’s a scam voicemail I received just last week. Have you been contacted?
HMRC’s helpline numbers often begin with 0300, so when I received a call from one last Thursday morning, it did make me look twice.
I’ve got a bit of a policy to not answer numbers I don’t recognise, though. After all, if they’re legitimate and it’s important, I rely on the caller to leave a voicemail. When it’s a cold call or a scam, that hardly ever happens.
But then a voicemail did arrive.
A tax fraud case registered in your name
The message implores you to press ‘1’ to ‘get connected to the officer of HMRC’. The message goes on to make the threat that if you’re not connected, a warrant will be issued under your name and you ‘will be arrested shortly’.
Listen to the voicemail:
That part was a little too close to parody for me and did make me laugh at its outlandishness.
But when I played it to my parents a few days later, they made a good point; ‘that could be scary for some people – less tech-savvy people could easily panic and think that was real’.
And it is a good point. In voicemail form, this particular scam might not represent much of a threat (pressing 1 while listening to your voicemails isn’t going to connect you to anyone).
But I’m now thinking of the psychological impact on someone who could easily think this was real – it’s an especially disturbing message to receive under the guise of an official government department.
‘Breakthrough’ controls to fight number-spoofing
Criminals have been able to fake calls from real HMRC numbers, meaning anyone Googling it to check on its authenticity may well be tricked into thinking the call was genuine.
Fortunately, HMRC is fighting back. New measures have been implemented in partnership with Ofcom and the telecoms industry in an attempt to put an end to number-spoofing.
The tax authority said it had already received 25% fewer scam reports than the previous month. Criminals will still turn to less credible numbers to attempt their scams, but eliminating the illegitimate use of official numbers will make them much easier to spot.
“For too long, fraud victims have lost life-changing sums of money to scammers they believed to be legitimate. Number spoofing can be incredibly hard to spot, so it is good to see HMRC, one of the most impersonated firms, taking action to stop fraudsters from exploiting their helpline number and identity.
A cross-sector approach is needed to tackle fraud, and it is now vital other public bodies and firms that are commonly impersonated follow this example and work with telecoms companies and Ofcom to stop fraudsters spoofing their numbers and targeting victims”
We’ve put together advice on how to spot HMRC phone scams, including voicemails that contain threatening language such as this one.
You can report these calls to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or use its online reporting tool.
Have you received a call or voicemail from HMRC scammers? Do you think tactics like this could succeed in duping vulnerable people?