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Public urged to beware as criminals posing as tax authorities call people’s landlines

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Fraudsters are turning to traditional scams involving calling people on their landline as authorities crack down on cons involving emails and mobile phone texts.

Households with a landline number should watch out for these types of calls involving fraudsters posing as the taxman – and hang up on them – HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said.

It said that as it has increasingly cracked down on bogus emails and texts claiming to be from the tax authority, a rising number of criminals are turning to the traditional method of cold-calling publicly available phone numbers to steal money from taxpayers. Often these calls are to landline numbers.

Criminals may terrify their victims into paying up by threatening them with legal action or jail.

According to Ofcom, nearly 26 million homes have a landline many of which could be at risk from scams – particularly if they are not ex-directory.

Older and more vulnerable people are often targeted.

HMRC received more than 60,000 reports of phone scams in six months up to January 2019.

This is a surge of 360% compared with the six months before this.

Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mel Stride, 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.”

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.”

The tax authority said it will only ever call someone asking for payment on a debt that they are already aware of, either having received a letter about it, or after they have told it they owe some tax, for example through a self-assessment return.

During the past 12 months, HMRC has worked with the phone networks and Ofcom to close nearly 450 lines being used by fraudsters.

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

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “Scammers will use any means possible to cheat people out of their money and we’d urge everyone to be cautious when they receive a cold call from someone requesting personal information, no matter where they say they’re calling from.

“If there are any niggling doubts it is always sensible to end the call and contact the company or government department separately using a phone number taken from a piece of official correspondence or their website.

“We encourage people to feel in control of who calls them at home, for example by signing up to the Telephone Preference Service or installing a call blocking device.”