HRMC has been shutting down websites that have been conning people to use premium rate phone numbers Image: Open Government Licence v3.0

Scammers create websites that look like the official HMRC site

Fraudsters are tricking people into using premium rate phone numbers for services that HMRC provide for free

Scammers create websites that look similar to HMRC’s official site and then direct the public to call expensive phone numbers. These have extortionate costs when compared to the low cost and no cost service HMRC provides.

Treasury Minister, Mel Stride MP the 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.”

These sites promote premium rate phone numbers as a means of reaching HMRC. But these are merely call forwarding services which connect callers to HMRC at a significant price.

HMRC’s own 0300 numbers are mostly free or charged at the national landline rate. Also sites have been charging for forwarding information to HMRC even though it is free of charge through the official website.

The specific tactics and costs on each site vary, but the maximum cost of a call is £3.60 a minute, capped at £36 per call. Anecdotal reports show the average victim reporting a cost of around £15 per call.

HMRC has challenged the ownership of these websites, masquerading as official websites, and taken them out of the hands of cheats.

So far, 105 domains have been recovered which were being used to host a range of misleading content. Analysis has shown that if this action was not taken, the public would have lost £2.4m to these phone scams.

Warning signs

When visiting websites for HMRC information, 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.

Consumer Minister Andrew Griffiths MP said:

“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.

“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.”