HMRC cuts phone scams

In 2018/19 more than 100,000 telephone scams were reported to HMRC. That contrasts with just under 8,000 reports in the previous year; an indication of just how prevalent telephone fraud had become. And it’s a fair bet that if that is number reported, the true number is likely to be significantly higher.

In response, HMRC have taken action to target one significant area of concern; the spoofing of HMRC phone numbers. This is an area which we highlighted in our April article ‘Promoting trust in telephone numbers’ in which we warned of the way in which fraudsters could disguise the phone number they were calling from, mimicking a number used by banks or other institutions.

Working with Ofcom and the telecoms industry, HMRC have now taken action to prevent spoofing of its helpline numbers. Whilst that won’t prevent fraudsters from representing themselves as phoning from HMRC, the fact that when they do so the HMRC helpline number will not appear may help people to be wary of the nature of the call. It is hoped that this initiative will echo the success of a 2016 initiative to tackle ‘HMRC branded’ scam texts. This resulted in a 90% reduction in reports received in respect of fraudulent contacts by this method.

Commenting on the initiative Pauline Smith, the Head of Action Fraud said “Phone calls are one of the top ways for fraudsters to make contact with their victims” adding “It is encouraging to see that these newly developed controls by HMRC have already achieved a reduction in the number of calls spoofing genuine HMRC numbers.”

The standard advice from HMRC and other financial institutions is that they will never ask for bank details or passwords when calling. This is a practice which other businesses could follow as a means of building telephone security awareness both in their staff and customers. Taking this further, businesses with a regular customer base could further strengthen the security relationship by agreeing telephone protocols with their customers. Whilst the nature of these protocols will vary depending on the business, the key to success is that they are simple and easily understood and don’t require the divulging of confidential information.

Having confidence in the genuine nature of any call could improve the dialogue between businesses and their customers, in turn strengthening the overall business relationship. In addition to being security aware, there are a number of areas in which businesses could improve their telephone protocols in order to encourage customers to call.

For example, installing a fully integrated switchboard could enable call pathways to be optimised, enabling existing and potential customers to be smoothly transferred to an individual or team who could answer their queries. Adding caller select enables regular callers to be switched seamlessly to their usual contact point or even to receive personalised messages when they call in to the business from a known telephone number. And for those customers who are not on your doorstep how about setting up an occasional conference call, thereby helping to maintain a strong relationship.

Written by Alison