Households with a landline number should be vigilant of phone calls from fraudsters pretending to be the taxman, warns HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

As HMRC has increasingly cracked down on email and SMS phishing, a rising number of criminals are turning to the traditional method of cold-calling publicly available phone numbers to steal money from taxpayers. Often these calls are to landline numbers.

According to Ofcom, nearly 26 million homes have a landline many of which could be at risk from scams, especially if they are not ex-directory.

Phone scams often target the elderly and vulnerable using HMRC’s brand as it is well-known and adds credibility to a fraudster’s call.

HMRC received more than 60,000 reports of phone scams in six months up to January 2019. This is an increase of 360% compared to the six months before this.

Head of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, said:

“Fraudsters will call your landline claiming to be from reputable organisations such as HMRC. Contact like this is designed to convince you to hand over valuable personal details or your money.

“Don’t assume anyone who calls you is who they say they are. If a person calls and asks you to make a payment, log in to an online account or offers you a deal, be cautious and seek advice.”

The tax authority will only ever call you asking for payment on a debt that you are already aware of, either having received a letter about it, or after you’ve told us you owe some tax, for example through a Self-Assessment return.

During the last 12 months, HMRC has worked with the phone networks and Ofcom to close nearly 450 lines being used by fraudsters using boiler room tactics to steal money.

If anyone is ever in doubt about who they are speaking to, HMRC advises you end the call and contact the department using one of the numbers or online services available from GOV.UK.

I know someone who could fall for this, what should I do?

If you know someone who has a landline, particularly those who may need protecting such as vulnerable relatives and neighbours, our advice is:

  • Recognise the signs – genuine organisations like banks and HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, password or bank details.
  • Stay safe – don’t give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in emails you weren’t expecting.
  • Take action- forward suspicious emails claiming and details of suspicious calls to be from HMRC to phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk and texts to 60599, or contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use their online fraud reporting tool, especially if you suffer financial loss.
  • Check GOV.UKfor information on how to avoid and report scams and recognise genuine HMRC contact.
  • If you think you have received an HMRC related phishing/bogus email or text message, you can check it against the examples shown in this guide.

More of HMRC’s other action against scams

  • In 2016 HMRC identified a significant increase in customers receiving malicious ‘HMRC’ branded texts in 2016, and with the phone industry, piloted controls that resulted in a 90% reduction in reports of these scams. The evidence from that pilot provided the basis for Mobile Ecosystem Forum to progress for a more scalable product used by others
  • HMRC has deployed technical controls that have so far stopped around half a billion phishing emails from ever reaching our customers’ inboxes and reduced reported instances of HMRC-branded phone text scams by 90%
  • HMRC work with a range of partners to quickly initiate the removal of phone numbers fraudster are using; this includes the Telecommunications UK Fraud Forum (TUFF),  Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF) and OfCom

Ofcom has advice on nuisance calls including how to protect yourself, such as going ex-directory. You can find more information the Ofcom website.