HM Revenue & Customs  

Scammers return to cold-calling

Scammers return to cold-calling

There has been a rise in phone-based scamming, including cold-calls, which were banned on pensions, according to official data.

Data from HMRC, collated by Griffin Law, showed UK taxpayers have been targeted with more than 1.5m fraudulent emails, calls and text messages claiming to be from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) in the past two years.

But while email scams dropped 60 per cent between 2018 and 2019 (from 841,805 to 333,857), phone scams rose sharply by 234 per cent.

In 2018 there were 58,538 reports of phone scams, rising to 195,720 last year. 

There were also 94,529 SMS text message phishing scams during the two-year period. Reports in this area rose 56 per cent, from 36,950 in 2018 to 57,579 in 2019.

According to Griffin Law, this suggests that either taxpayers are becoming more aware of the threat of email scams and email filtration systems or that cyber criminals have spotted a trend of success in phone scamming and have instead moved to this type of scam.

According to HMRC it has applied domain-blocking controls to prevent spoof emails, as well as working with industry to develop controls to prevent spoof text message and phone scams reaching consumers.

But due to the crackdown on email, SMS and text scams, fraudsters have now turned to “the traditional method of cold-calling publicly available phone numbers to steal money from taxpayers”, it said.

Cold-calling in relation to pensions, which includes emails and texts, was banned by the government from January 9, 2019 and carries fines of up to £500,000 for any breaches.

To stop cold-calling elsewhere the tax authority has partnered with the telecoms industry and Ofcom to put in place controls that prevent spoofing of HMRC’s most-used inbound helpline numbers.

An HMRC spokesperson said: “Scammers use a range of techniques, including phoning taxpayers and offering a bogus tax refund, or threatening them with arrest if they don’t immediately pay tax owed. 

“These scams often target the elderly and vulnerable, who are called and told that they owe tax, sometimes accompanied by threats of legal action. We are a well-known brand, which criminals abuse to add credibility to their scams.  

“If someone calls you claiming to be from HMRC saying that you will be arrested, that we are filing a lawsuit against you, or even that you are owed a tax refund, and asks for information such as your name, credit card or bank details, it’s a scam.

"If you can’t verify the identity of the caller, we recommend that you do not speak to them.”

Phishing scams involve the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers. 

Donal Blaney, managing director at Griffin Law, said: “No reputable organisation will ask for your private account details or tell you to click through on a link and supply personal data or passwords.