HMRC has today written to the chief executives of major UK retailers, urging them to share details of a prolific scam with all their staff so that they can act as the last line of defence against fraudsters.
The high-profile iTunes phone scam is conning vulnerable and elderly people out of thousands of pounds. The scammers prey on victims by cold calling them and impersonating HMRC members of staff. They tell them that they owe large amounts of tax which they can only pay off through Apple’s iTunes vouchers. Victims are told to go to a local shop, buy these vouchers, and then read out the redemption code to the scammer.
The conmen then sell on the codes or purchase high-value products, all at the victim’s expense.
Following HMRC’s recent awareness campaign, several retail workers across the UK have warned customers buying hundreds of pounds worth of iTunes vouchers that they may be about to fall victim to the scammers.
Angela MacDonald, HMRC’s Director General of Customer Service, said:
“It’s really reassuring to see reports of supermarket staff, off their own back, taking action to keep customers safe. Raising public awareness is the best safeguard against this vicious scam.
“Supermarket staff are often the last line of defence against these fraudsters. That’s why I’ve written to the chief executives of major UK retailers to urge them to make their staff aware of this scam so they can help protect unsuspecting customers.
The letters come shortly after the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mel Stride MP, praised two Tesco Linwood staff members, who prevented customers from being conned out of £1,000 by HMRC impersonators.
Figures from Action Fraud show that there have been over 1,500 reports of this scam since 2016.The vast majority of the victims are aged over 65 and suffered an average financial loss of £1,150 each. Despite campaigns by HMRC and law enforcement agencies people are still falling victim to the scam, with the highest ever loss being reported last week of an 81 year old man losing £20,000 after being repeatedly targeted by the fraudsters.
HMRC is taking action daily to shut down scamming operations including identifying and initiating the takedown of website links being used by criminals, blocking text messages, blocking emails, and recent high profile awareness campaigns.