I’ve written in these columns before about scams committed by fraudsters who claim to be acting on behalf of HMRC. Often these involve fake messages about tax repayments and require the recipient to provide the caller with bank details. But there are many different sorts of scams out there; and I was unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a particularly nasty new variant.
I don’t answer mobile phone calls when I don’t recognise the caller, but if an unknown person leaves me a message I tend to listen to it. The message I got was ‘from HMRC’ and told me that I had been accused of committing tax fraud and that I needed to contact HMRC immediately by returning the call otherwise I might be arrested!
Now I would not normally want to share my personal tax affairs with the readership of this briefing, but I am prepared to reveal that my tax affairs are up to date and that I most certainly have not committed any fraud. But that didn’t stop me feeling dread in the pit of my stomach when I heard a voice accusing me of fraud. However much I knew it was a scam and should just be ignored, it really was a nasty experience and left me disconcerted for quite a while.
I know enough about how the system works to know that the call must have been a scam, but I can imagine that many people who received such calls (and there are lots of reports out there of this particularly scam), particular those who are vulnerable or who do not understand how HMRC works, would be completely disorientated by receiving the call. It is all too easy to imagine people panicking and getting sucked into the scam – eventually paying money to ‘HMRC’ to make the threat of prosecution go away. The whole thing really is very nasty.
I didn’t fall for this one, but I don’t kid myself that I would always avoid being scammed. It only takes a momentary lapse in concentration to fall foul of some fraudster’s latest scheme. As Thomas Jefferson nearly said, ‘the price of tax peace of mind is eternal vigilance’.