Tax & admin · 4 June 2018

HMRC takes out 105 fake websites scamming taxpayers, saving £2.4m

HMRC has claimed it saved taxpayers £2.4m by shutting down fake websites

Over 100 fake websites masquerading as HMRC have been shut down in the last year, as the tax office steps up its fight against online fraudsters and telephone scams.

As the most “spoofed” government brand, HMRC has been battling online scammers for ownership of domains appearing to be official HMRC websites.

The websites direct users to premium rate phone numbers carrying “extortionate” costs as a means of reaching HMRC, acting merely as a call-forwarding service.

In 2017, HMRC began formally challenging ownership of such misleading domains designed to fool taxpayers. To date, 105 fake HMRC websites have been recovered.

While the tactics and costs on each fake HMRC website vary, the tax office estimates that the average victim loses around £15 on each call (maximum cost of call: £3.60 per minute, capped at £36).

Official analysis found the likely cost to taxpayers could have reached £2.4m, had HMRC not taken action.

Commenting on the threat posed by fake HMRC websites, Mel Stride, financial secretary to the Treasury said: “We know that HMRC is the most spoofed government brand as criminals try to take advantage of the fact that everyone has some involvement with the tax authority. In this particular case, scammers try to dupe the public into paying large sums for services that are available for free or low cost.

“This is a brazen con, charging premium rates whilst simply redirecting calls to the real HMRC numbers that are available at low or no cost. It is a testament to the hard work of HMRC that they have prevented criminals extracting £2.4m from the public.”

HMRC has reminded taxpayers that its own 0300 numbers are usually free or charged at the national landline rate.

Stride added: “The public should go direct to gov.uk to obtain genuine HMRC contact numbers. These will not be premium rate numbers. People should be alert for sponsored adverts, websites charging for government services which would be expected to be free and those with disclaimers denying association with HMRC or government.”

Meanwhile, small business minister Andrew Griffiths acknowledged the impact of scams on tax payers.

“Anyone can fall victim to scams and the cost can be devastating, so it’s great to see HMRC cracking down on these bogus websites and protecting the public’s purse,” he said.

“This Scams Awareness Month I’m encouraging anyone who has fallen foul of false phone numbers to speak up, so we can stamp scams out.”

Twitter users have been sharing their screenshots of fake HMRC websites and emails to help others spot a scam.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and has previously worked as a content editor in local government and the ecommerce industry.

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