Published: 12:28, 07 October 2020
| Updated: 12:30, 07 October 2020
Fraudsters threatening people with arrest over tax debts have conned victims out of thousands of pounds in less than two weeks.
Three people in Kent are among those targeted, losing £21,000 between them but police have had 85 reports in one month alone.
The con artists tell people they may be arrested for owing money to Her Majesty’s Revenue Customs, and demand they pay up on the spot.
Now a warning has been issued in a bid to stop others falling for the same lie.
In September, 85 reports of scams involving fraudsters claiming to be from HMRC were reported to Kent Police.
On September 18 in Canterbury , a woman lost £4,000 after being contacted by someone claiming to be from HMRC. They demanded immediate payment and threatened her with arrest.
On September 30, police received a call from a man in Maidstone who had paid out more than £11,000 after receiving a call from someone claiming to be from HMRC. He was told that he could either pay the money or go to court for tax evasion. On the same day in Dartford , a woman was contacted by someone also stating they were from HMRC and she would be arrested if she did not pay £6,000. The fraudsters made her download an app to transfer the funds.
Detective Sergeant Alec Wood of the Volume Fraud Team said: "These fraudsters prey on vulnerable individuals and use scare tactics, like the threat of arrest, to rush people into making rash decisions and parting with large sums of money.
"They are good at what they do and always have a convincing reason why money has to be received a certain way. In addition to a direct bank transfer they also encourage people to purchase gift cards or download money transfer apps to make a payment.
"Not content with stealing from a person once, it is not uncommon they will persistently target someone over a period of time, in some instances lump sums have been paid on three or four occasions.
"It is important we all stay alert to these fraudsters and speak to anyone who may be vulnerable to ensure they are aware of steps they can take to keep themselves and their money safe.
"There are several variations of this particular scam. They sometimes use an automated phone call, or tell you that you’re entitled to a tax refund and ask you to call them. Avoid engaging with these people, make a note of the numbers they are using and report them to HMRC.
"Take a moment to stop and think before paying out any money or giving information. If you have the slightest doubt the caller is legitimate challenge them – only a criminal will try and rush you into making a payment.
"It's fine to refuse, ignore and reject calls if you don’t know the caller, however if you have given out financial details contact your bank immediately as they may be able to stop a transaction.
"If you do become a victim of this crime contact Action Fraud. Often people are embarrassed to come forward but these are professional fraudsters and people should not feel ashamed to seek help, it may also prevent someone else from becoming a victim."
Advice if you get a call from someone claiming to be from HMRC and you feel you need to engage with them, is to ask the caller to put the demand in writing to you. If they then ask to confirm your address, don't – HMRC already has that information.
HMRC will never ask anybody to pay a fine by purchasing gift cards, if you get a call like this, then hang up immediately. Any legitimate demand for tax will be in writing.
You can report HMRC phishing emails to firstname.lastname@example.org including your number, date of the call, the phone number used and the content of the call.
You can forward HMRC scam text messages to 60599 – you’ll be charged at your network rate.