New statistics from HMRC reveal a surge in phone scam reports, yet telco security experts, Callsign, have praised the taxman’s counter fraud efforts.

According to HMRC, there were 104,774 phone scams reported in 2018-2019, up from 7,778 in 2017-2018.

“Although these numbers are concerning, HMRC is already implementing clever new techniques to halt fraudsters in their tracks,” said Ryan Gosling, head of partnerships at Callsign.

HMRC announced it would block scammers from spoofing genuine phone numbers used by the taxman (beginning with 0300), with the aim of reducing the number of citizens tricked into thinking they owe HMRC money.

The new controls reduced to zero the number of phone scams using genuine inbound HMRC numbers, resulting in 25% fewer scam reports on the previous month.

“By working with phone companies and regulator Ofcom,” said Gosling, “HMRC has put an end to fraudster’s mimicking its most recognisable helpline numbers to dupe taxpayers and steal money.

“The work that HMRC has done clearly shows the potential that partnerships can have in fighting fraud. But there is more that can be achieved, beyond merely changing a phone number,” he said.

For Gosling, the real difference can be made in leveraging mobile operators’ data to build a picture of normal behaviour and challenge with stepped-up authentication anything unusual.

“Evidently telcos, and the data they hold, have a critical role to play,” said Gosling, “and there needs to be greater collaboration between government, security, telco organisations and, most importantly, banks to stop the problem of all types fraud for the sake of the customer.

“With so much of our lives taking place via our smartphones, it makes sense that intelligence from telcos should be used more broadly to tackle problems like fraud, which have the potential to cause massive disruption to UK citizens,” Gosling said.

HMRC has already partnered with Mobile UK, Mobile Ecosystem Forum and Telecommunications UK Fraud Forum as well as Ofcom to develop the new anti-fraud controls.

Spotting HMRC scams

HMRC will only call by phone to ask for a payment to a debt a taxpayer is already aware of, having already received a letter about it, or after filing a Self Assessment return. Additionally, the new controls mean card details will never be read aloud to an operator.

HMRC advises:

  • Not to give out private information, PIN, passwords or bank details
  • Not to click on links sent by SMS
  • To hang up and phone a HMRC helpline if in doubt
  • Report suspicious calls to or text 60599, or contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040

Callsign’s Gosling advises to be particularly weary leading up to the tax return window, where fraudsters spoof citizens into thinking they are due a tax rebate, but the individual is required to provide account information.

Gosling also advises double checking URLs and email addresses on received communications for any deviations from official correspondence.

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