With the self-assessment deadline fast approaching, fraudsters are becoming savvier as they escalate their tax scam tricks in a bid to fleece unsuspecting victims out of thousands of pounds.
Last week, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs said that more than 5.5million taxpayers need to complete their tax return for the tax year 2017-18 ahead of the end of January deadline.
HMRC has warned it will impose penalties if tax returns aren't completed on time - and criminals are taking advantage of this knowledge using a new phone scam tactic threatening legal consequences if taxpayers don't call back and pay up.
Don't be fooled by callers claiming to be from the HMRC. It's a scam to fleece you out of thousands of pounds
According to Comparitech, a tech comparison website, a robot caller claims to be from the HMRC, warning: 'The issue at hand is extremely time sensitive.
'If you don't call us back or we do not hear from your solicitors either then get ready to face the legal consequences.'
Comparitech says that when people call the number they are asked to pay upwards of £3,000 in taxes and if they don't pay promptly they get threatened with a 20-fold increase in penalties by the end of the day.
Listen to the full recording here:
It also warned that criminals use another tactic where they claim to be HMRC agents observing a victim's property urgently requesting a call back and payment in order to prevent a raid on the property.
Many people have fallen for the ruse, particularly after the criminals become aggressive and threaten hefty financial penalties, or worse – time in jail.
Last year, This is Money reported how a mum of two lost £2,900 in savings from a scammer pretending to be from the HMRC threatening prison for her failing to pay taxes in a previous tax year and ignoring 'request for payment notices'.
It also comes as fraudsters have been found to be cloning HMRC phone numbers to help 'legitimise' scam attempts and convince taxpayers that they are indeed in trouble with the tax authority.
This is all made possible with Voice over Internet Protocol technologies which copies the HMRC's number (usually 0300 200 3300).
Websites that offer this type of service are easy to find and many may not realise how easy it is for a fraudster to make a telephone number appear it is coming from a bank or a government organisation.
Comparitech warned: 'Scammers often attempt to instill a sense of urgency in victims to make them slip up.
'The real HMRC will not make threats over the phone, legal or otherwise, that require immediate action.'
HMRC tips on how to identify a scam
· 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 to be from HMRC to email@example.com and texts to 60599, or contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 to report any suspicious calls or use their online fraud reporting tool.
· HMRC debt management teams do contact members of the public by phone about paying outstanding debts.
· If a customer isn't confident that the call is from HMRC, it will ask them to call back. Depending on the circumstances and to give the customer confidence it is actually HMRC calling, information may be disclosed to the caller which only HMRC is party to.
· Calls from the majority of HMRC offices will leave caller identification data, i.e. the number the caller has used to contact you from.
· For up to date advice on scam HMRC phone calls, visit GOV.UK.
· HMRC will call people about outstanding tax bills, and sometimes use automated messages, however this would include your taxpayer reference number. If you are uncertain of the caller hang up and call HMRC directly to check – you can confirm our call centre numbers on GOV.UK if you are unsure. For tax credits it does not include your details in any voicemail messages.