A leading accountancy firm has warned of a rise in phone scams and phishing attacks after one of their clients was conned into handing over almost £2,000.
John Oakley, taxation director at Beatons Group in Ipswich, said the woman had been called by a man pretending to be from the HMRC who said she hadn’t paid tax totalling £1,800.
“She tried to refer the caller to our team, as her accountants, but he said there was a warrant out for her arrest and insisted she provide her bank details immediately,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was very convincing and she is now contacting her bank to recover any money taken.
“It appears there is an increase in this type of scam be targeting elderly people who have been confined to their homes for a long period of time.
“We believe this is because during the pandemic there has been an increased reliance upon digital communication, video chats replacing face to face meetings and e-mails replacing letters.
“That has made some people very vulnerable to fraud because they are using channels they are not as familiar with.”
Mr Oakley has urged accountants to team up with banks and teach people to be vigilant of people cold calling and purporting to be from HMRC or advising on government grants.
He added: “The government have provided a large number of support packages and this has been an opportunity for fraudsters to try to obtain personal information. This has included cold calling and online scams
“Advisors and banks need to work together to better inform the public on who to trust.”
Numbers of scam emails purporting to be from the UK tax authorities have skyrocketed since the start of the year.
The number of phishing emails reported to HM Revenue & Customs climbed to 42,575 in March — up 74% since January and Covid-19 was explicitly referred to in HMRC-phishing emails reported in March, having not featured at all in January or February.
Other common techniques fraudsters use includes contacting taxpayers and offering a fake tax refund, and pretending to be HMRC by texting or emailing a link, which will take customers to a false page where their bank details are stolen.
Action Fraud, the UK’s fraud reporting centre, said 1,713 people had lost £3.5m to Covid-19 related scams by May 15.
Mr Oakley said: “HMRC will not ask you for personal information or bank details by text or email. Also, they would never put you under time pressure for action.
“Individuals should never give out private information, reply to unsolicited text messages, download attachments or click on links in texts or emails which they are not expecting.”