/ Money

Scam watch: fake HMRC lawsuit threat

We’ve heard about a new scam where fraudsters pose as HMRC in an attempt to steal your personal info. Here’s what to watch out for…

We recently got this letter from a member:

I got a message on my answering machine telling me HMRC was filing a lawsuit against me, and that I should press 1 to speak to my case handler.

The caller had not withheld their number so I called them back. There was no reply for a while, then a voicemail with an electronic male North American accent said the person I was calling was not available and I should leave my details.

At this point I hung up. HMRC has no reason to sue me. If it did, I’m sure it wouldn’t contact me in this way.

I would expect an official letter detailing the reasons for the lawsuit and what initial action I would be expected to take.

Our advice

You were right to hang up. We’ve had more than 100 people report this scam to us and it’s only getting more prolific.

Variations of the scam include threatening someone with arrest or legal action if they don’t call back.

The scam is designed to scare you into returning the fraudster’s call, when you’ll then be cornered into handing over personal or banking details.

HMRC would never contact you out of the blue. If it needs to get in touch with you, it will normally write to you and quote your tax reference number.

We’ve informed Action Fraud and HMRC so this can be investigated. If you get more calls in the future, you should do the same.


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I cannot see what particular help to the targets or victims of scams is being offered in the USA. All the US government is saying is report it to the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Trade Commission, etc. so they can collect evidence for lawsuits against people committing the scams. How is that any different to reporting scams in the UK to Action Fraud which is a unit of the City of London police, the primary fraud and corruption investigation and prosecuting authority in the UK? I don’t think we need to take many lessons from America which is rife with corruption, fraud, embezzlement, and exploitation that the law enforcement agencies there cannot seem to get a grip on despite their apparent legal powers.

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No, Duncan, I haven’t missed the comments about the inability of Action Fraud to recover people’s lost money – but it was never intended to do that. What it can do is go after the perpetrators if it can find them, which is no easier here than in the US. We tend to get all the negative stories in Which Conversation? which builds up a false impression. The fact is, however bitter a pill it is to swallow, that in most fraud cases the victim has done something or said something that has enabled the scam to take place. That does not in any way mitigate the crime but it means that recovery is almost impossible. Changing the systems is the only effective way of stopping the scams but that can often be but a temporary respite.

I was not referring to money-laundering as I have not seen any evidence one way or the other. Obviously, financial centres will always be the chief locations for conversion and concealment but I expect that is a tiny proportion of all the transactions that take place in London and Edinburgh. Since the Financial Conduct Authority was set up I think the situation is now more or less under control, but money always attracts the dishonest. It is easy to make allegations but incredibly difficult to prove them and punish the offenders.

I concur, John. There’s a wealth of advice from both official bodies and voluntary organisations in the UK and I believe we’re well served. That’s not to say more couldn’t be done, but these scams date back a long time.

Far from them being ‘original US scams’ they date back in recorded history to 1900 BC, when lively scams using rigged scales were very much in fashion.

Fast forward to Rome and in merry slave markets the slave you paid for in an auction wasn’t always the one that arrived in the post.

The Middle ages were no better, where a very neat scam involved paying for a piglet in a bag. The pig-pedlar displayed a healthy happy pig for all to see, and when you parted with your groats you were given a bag full of cat. Interestingly, that’s where the expression buying a pig in a poke originated.

But this current scam, the HMRC one, again originated around 3000 years ago. In ancient Egypt supplicants were anxious for good luck and to edge the dice in their favour would often pay for a mini-tomb with their pet cat dried and mummified within. There was good money in these but when researchers from Manchester Museum and the University of Manchester used a CT scanner and X-ray machine that would normally be used on children, to see beneath the wrappings without damaging the ancient specimens inside they found around half were completely empty.

To aggravate matters scrolls claiming to be from Pharaoh’s tax collection depot would claim the scroll recipient would be subject to torture and possibly death if they couldn’t pay the appropriate Mummy tax on such a deal.

Scams, therefore, are nothing to do with the US but are as old as mankind. I’m pretty sure Ug bitterly regretted buying his woman from Kug and dragging her back to the cave, only to find out she was far older than he’d been told. When he sought the traditional retribution he then found out his club was riddled with woodworm, so he clearly wasn’t having a good epoch.

It’s sad, but the only thing that has changed is the ubiquity of communication devices, making it a lot easier to fool more people.

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duncan, I understand your fear of possible retribution but there seems no point in storing incriminating files if you make no use of them. May I suggest you leak them to an organisation that may be interested? I’d suggest Private Eye.

I sometimes think there are areas where Which? could collaborate with PEYE, who carry out some very worthwhile investigations and offer rational commentaries. But there seems a wish for many organisations to remain somewhat insular, even from their own Members.

“the inability of Action Fraud to recover people’s lost money –… was a comment made above in relation to scams.
The Guardian headline June ’18 reads; “ 95% of UK burglaries and robberies not solved, data suggests“.
We probably need to pay for a lot more resource to tackle it more effectively. Those fortunate enough to have insurance may get some of the value of their possessions back, but all we insured folk pay for that through our premiums. Perhaps we could insure against online fraud and scams, but be prepared to have to prove you did not contribute to the loss.

With all due respect to your accumulated fraud intelligence, Duncan, this Conversation is not about money-laundering but the sort of scams that ordinary upright citizens are prey to every day at the end of their telephone line or through their e-mail account in the worrying belief that the HMRC is after them. No wonder they sometimes give too much away and get exploited. These are hard crimes where people are visibly suffering and the distress is palpable. I don’t exonerate money-laundering but its personal impact is negligible.

Morning all,

This is veering off topic, so let's leave this discussion here. Thanks,


Scams can involve many different topics, but a very common formal is a “hurt and rescue” scenario in which non-free help is offered as a remedy a made-up problem.

We can fight can in many different ways as, for example, outlined here by Jim Browning:


John R says:
2 February 2019

Since Insurance companies are likely to have less net losses if both police and other agencies have more targetted manpower, I would like to see them contribute towards increased police surveillance.

Robert Pemberton
I live in Orpington and I am continually getting recorded phone messages from an American sounding female regarding my internet connection where she is saying that my broadband will be terminated and inferring they are from BT. They ask me to press keys to be put through to someone regarding my account otherwise they will cut me off because of non payment. I know this to be rubbish and just hang up I am never tempted to contact anyone. This is happening more often and it seems I cannot stop them ringing.

That scam has its own conversation here:


Rob Broadhurst says:
2 February 2019

Similar to the call threatening to sue you, there is another scam doing the rounds that only leaves a message for you to call back. It is a very real person and they never speak if you answer the phone. The message asks you to call them back on a UK number. when that call is answered, you are kept hanging on whilst the scammers make their money by the extremely high call charges you are paying (without knowing). I don’t know what the charges are but suspect they are north of £100 a minute.

Remember, for an HMRC call to be genuine, they will ask you to provide them with confirmation of certain items of personal information. If you refuse to give these, a genuine HMRC caller will not continue the call. The information is NOT bank related.

Which? has a web page about similar scams here:


Eleonore Kofman says:
2 February 2019

I had a similar attempt. The worst is that when I tried to report on the Action Fraud line, it didn’t work. In the end I gave up.

I also found their website hard to use this week.

For one thing, I think they count users who’ve been approached by scammers as “victims” not “witnesses” but if you merely been approached but not suffered any consequences it doesn’t seem obvious that you should be seeing yourself as victim.

I have had problems getting the website to accept a contact phone number – which it needed for a full record and submission. In this case, it just wouldn’t accept the victim’s mobile phone number as valid data.

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Duncan – I saw that message too, but it made no sense in the context of my problems.

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Action Fraud is the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime where you should report fraud if you have been scammed, defrauded or experienced cyber crime in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We provide a central point of contact for information about fraud and financially motivated internet crime. People are scammed, ripped off or conned everyday and we want this to stop.

The service is run by the City of London Police working alongside the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) who are responsible for assessment of the reports and to ensure that your fraud reports reach the right place. The City of London Police is the national policing lead for economic crime.

The City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau is using millions of reports of fraud to identify serial offenders, organised crime gangs and established and emerging crime types.

This may have been confused with NFIB.com?
“What Does NFIB Do?
NFIB is the voice of small business. Learn how NFIB and our members work to keep America’s small businesses strong and independent.

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duncan, would you provide the link that show that Action Fraud / NFIB is American run so we all know the situation.

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You don’t give a link. It is from Wiki It says a US firm was brought in to run the helpline. Why this was necessary I don’t know but probably better than using Serco or Capita. However, as far as I can see, running a helpline is a long way from Action Fraud “ being run by the USA” …..but I’m happy to be proven wrong.

But when the only tool you have is a hammer, it is easy to see everything as a nail

I don’t know why anyone would want to question the fact that the UK’s Action Fraud organisation is an internally-operated service currently provided by the City of London police force. Certain technical functionalities might be serviced by an American company but that would be under a proper contract setting out the scope and reach of its activities. It is for the protection of UK citizens, not primarily a matter of national security although it might have useful spin-offs in that direction.

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I note your opinions, Duncan. And literary quotations are also only opinions and prove nothing, especially when they are not relevant to the context. You could at least credit the author, Barbara Marciniak, when you rely on it for your argument.

The City of London police force is not a law unto itself. It is answerable to the Home Secretary in the same way as any other police force and is ultimately accountable to Parliament. It is subject to the laws on policing, human rights, and other legislation. I have seen no evidence that it transmits data on Action Fraud cases to a foreign country – and so what if it did? With proper controls that is not necessarily worse than keeping it in the UK or in another European state.

..and this is how we go wildly off topic. From discussing HMRC fraudulent lawsuit threats we’re off, once again, to the US of A, threading through subverted control, secret messaging and finally to the words of someone who makes her living from the truly gullible by suggesting she’s channelling Aliens and their messages.

Looking back through this Convo it never seems to have been on topic. It started with a post about the US and I’m pushed to see any meaningful comment about HMRC (a quick glance, so may have missed it).

It may be the topic is much too narrow for a dedicated Convo. It is these sorts of Convos that often then wander off down another, related, alley. A Convo on what the authorities can and can’t, will and won’t, do to combat fraud and recover lost funds and/or bring the perpetrators to justice seems a more useful discussion.

I agree it was shoved off topic with the initial post, but the header also failed to pose a question. Most headers ask a specific question, which serves to provide a fenced pathway for future contributions.

Had 2 of these calls today from slightly different numbers, second went dead when I answered but looked up the number and others reporting it as the HMRC scam.

The recorded message sounded a lot more realistic and threatening than on here:

They want you to press 1 to talk to someone otherwise a warrant will be issued for your arrest. Quite a few people admit to pressing 1.

sheila barnes says:
9 September 2019

this has happened to me; two calls this last week.I reported it to Pus Net who said there was nothing could be done