- Scammers create copycat websites that look similar to HMRC’s official site
- Phone numbers on such sites are more expensive than HMRC’s own numbers
- Sites also charge for forwarding information to HMRC which can be provided free of charge
The taxman claims to have saved the public £2.4million by tackling bogus websites posing to be official HM Revenue sites which were redirecting people to premium rate phone numbers.
Copycat websites that look similar to HMRC’s official site have proliferated in recent years. Fraudsters often use them to promote phone numbers to call the taxman that can cost callers up to £3.60p per minute.
HMRC said the phone numbers advertised on such copycat websites are ‘merely call forwarding services which connect callers to HMRC at a significant price’. Instead, HMRC’s own 0300 numbers are mostly free or charged at national headline rate.
Crackdown: Numbers advertised on bogus websites can cost callers up to £3.60p per minute
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, the taxman said.
‘Anecdotal reports show the average victim reporting a cost of around £15 per call,’ it added.
In other cases, the copycat sites charge for forwarding information to HMRC which can be provided free of charge through the taxman’s official website.
‘HMRC has successfully challenged the ownership of these websites, masquerading as official websites, and taken them out of the hands of cheats,’ the taxman said.
It comes as HMRC took action against these websites last year, and said it has managed to recover 105 domains so far that were being used ‘to host a range of misleading content’.
Consumers should go directly to gov.uk to obtain genuine HMRC contact numbers, which will not be premium rate.
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.
Treasury Minister Mel Stride 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.
‘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 released the figure at the start of scam awareness month organised by Citizens Advice which is running throughout June.
Last week the charity published data showing the number of Britons falling victim to investment scams has doubled over the past year amid a rising wave of cryptocurrency, binary option investments and holiday timeshares scams.