There appears to have been a recent spike in the number of illegal websites claiming to be collectors for HM Revenue and Customs. These premium rate fraudsters set up sites that appear to be associated with the exchequer, or even creating replica pages of the HMRC website to take money from unwitting taxpayers.
The fake sites work by directing the public to call the premium rate numbers advertised on them which then cleverly connects them to the real HMRC helpline – charging extortionate rates for the privilege.
Many customers don’t even realise they’ve been conned until their phone bills arrive allowing the fraudsters to get away with it. Fortunately, HMRC has stepped in.
HMRC take action
HMRC caught on to the scam a little while ago, and they have since cracked down on these fake websites.
The Revenue reported that the specific tactics being utilised to trick customers varied from site to site, but that the maximum cost per call was an exorbitant £3.60 a minute, up to a total of £36 per call. Reports have shown that the average victim was charged around £15 for a single call to one of these lines.
Financial Secretary to the Treasury Mel Stride MP said that HMRC is “the most spoofed government brand” since criminals take advantage of the fact that virtually everyone will become involved with the taxman at some point.
In some cases, the internet fraudsters would even charge for forwarding information on to HMRC; a service that can be provided completely free of charge on the gov.uk website.
“This is a brazen con,” says Stride. “Charging premium rates while simply redirecting calls to the real HMRC numbers that are available at low or no cost.”
Since 2017, 105 domains used to host a range of misleading content regarding HMRC have been recovered. Analysis has shown that thanks to their swift action in dealing with the scam, they have saved the British public more than £2.4 million by having the scam sites taken down.
Consumer Minister Andrew Griffiths MP added: “Anyone can fall victim to scams and the cost can be devastating, so it’s great to see HMRC cracking down on these bogus websites and protecting the public’s purse.”
How to keep yourself safe from HMRC scams
The most common ways that scammers managed to intercept customers was through internet searches for car tax discs, renewing of driving licenses or passports, and tax return submissions. That’s why it is vitally important that you stay vigilant when dealing with tax enquiries online.
Genuine HMRC numbers start in 0300 and are usually completely free of charge or at least charged at the national landline rate. If you come across a ‘HMRC’ telephone number or government advice line starting with 084, 087, 090, 091 or 098, then please do not call it.
No government department would use a number starting with this to deliver a legitimate government service. So, if you come across a website claiming to be connected to HMRC with a number of this type, you should forward the information to the relevant body.
Unsure whether the site you’re on is the real deal? You can search for official government telephone numbers by searching for the relevant service on the gov.uk website, or go directly to HMRC yourself on their website or call their (real) helpline on 0300 200 3300.
Dealing with the legitimate taxman
If you’re concerned about anything related to taxation and you want our help to get in touch with HMRC about it, please do make contact with us. Call today for support and advice by emailing email@example.com or call 01332 207 336