The technique, also known as ‘spoofing’, uses phone numbers that look very similar to the ones used by the tax authority in a bid to appear legitimate.
The number of complaints about such calls has risen astronomically over the last few years, with HMRC receiving more than 100,000 reports in the last financial year.
- 2016/17 – 407 complaints
- 2017/18 – 7,778 complaints
- 2018/19 – 104,774 complaints
Additional control to eradicate scams
The taxman has partnered with Ofcom, the telecommunications regulator, and other industry networks and associations to introduce even more control mechanisms to the way their helplines operate.
For instance, taxpayers will now be able to enter their payments details through their phone keypads, instead of communicating them verbally over the phone.
This means that the operator won’t see or know the individual’s secure information, but it will still be registered in HMRC’s system.
In addition, fraudsters won’t be able to use phone numbers that resemble HMRC helplines, as this will make it more difficult for them to look legitimate.
The press release does not specify how this would be achieved, although it is possible that very similar phone number will not be allowed to register with telecommunication companies just in case they are being requested by potential scammers.
“This is a huge step forward in the fight against phone fraud,” said Jess Norman, financial secretary to the treasury, commenting on the move.
“HMRC’s new controls will help to protect thousands of hardworking taxpayers and their families from these heartless criminals. Vigilance will always be important, but this is a significant blow to the phone cheats.”
Since the introduction of these controls in April 2019, HMRC said that it has already seen the number of complaints reduced to zero, resulting in a 25% reduction in scam reports compared to March 2019.
“Phone calls are one of the top ways for fraudsters to make contact with their victims,” said Pauline Smith, head of national reporting centre Action Fraud.
“Between April 2018 and March 2019, one in four phishing reports made to Action Fraud were about fraudulent phone calls.
“It is encouraging to see that these newly developed controls by HMRC have already achieved a reduction in the number of calls spoofing genuine HMRC numbers.”