Sussex residents warned after 360% increase in landline frauds

A telephone. Pic: John Holden
A telephone. Pic: John Holden

Households with a landline number should be wary of phone calls from fraudsters pretending to be the tax authority, HM Revenue and Customs has warned.

A crackdown on email and SMS phishing has pushed fraudsters back to the more traditional method of cold-calling publicly available phone numbers, which are often landlines.

According to Ofcom, almost 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.

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.”

HMRC has warned it will only ever call asking for payment relating to a debt the recipient is already aware of, having received a letter or after alerting the HMRC to owed tax, for example through a self-assessment return.

HMRC received more than 60,000 reports of phone scams in the six months up to January 2019, an increase of over 3.5 times compared to the preceding six months.

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.

Financial secretary to the Treasury, Mel Stride MP, said: “We have taken major steps to crack down on text and email phishing scams, leaving fraudsters no choice but to try and con taxpayers over the phone.

"If you receive a suspicious call to your landline from someone purporting to be from HMRC which threatens legal action, to put you in jail, or payment using vouchers, hang up and report it to HMRC who can work to take them off the network.”

If anyone is ever in doubt about who they are speaking to, HMRC advises ending the call and contacting the department using one of the numbers or online services available from gov.uk