An eagle-eyed off duty officer stepped in to stop his elderly neighbour becoming the victim of a fraud after she bought hundreds of pounds worth of gift cards.

The woman, in her 80’s, bought the cards after receiving a call from someone asserting to be from HMRC. The caller told her that there was a warrant out for her arrest due to unpaid tax dating back to the 1950’s. In order to “settle the debt” she would need to buy £500 worth of gift cards, which can be redeemed by anyone if they have the code on the card.

Believing the call to be legitimate, the woman rushed to her local supermarket where she made the purchase. It was only when she spotted her neighbour returning home from work that she told him about the call. Fortunately, her neighbour happens to be PC Andy Hood, an officer with West Yorkshire Police.

PC Andy Hood Said to Action Fraud: “After speaking to my neighbour, I knew that she had fallen victim to fraudsters. HMRC will never contact anyone out of the blue to request tax debts are paid in gift cards.”

Andy reported the incident to Action Fraud and contacted his neighbour’s phone provider to get her landline number changed. He also helped her install a spam call blocker to stop irritant calls. “I’m really pleased to have helped and it’s nice to know I made a difference. It’s just fortunate that I was in the right place at the right time. There are many people who don’t have friends or family to step in, which is why it is essential that we raise awareness about the different ways fraudsters trick people into providing financial or personal information.”

How are these scams happening? 

More than 1 in 10 scams reported in the UK come from Indian based call centres. HMRC received 73,000 complaints about suspicious scam communications in the last year. Police say it is almost impossible to try to trace these criminals. British victims have paid millions to scam centres based in India and employees there are paid incentives to encourage them to reach targets.

A spokesperson for HMRC said: “We will only ever call you asking for payment on a debt that you are already aware of, either having received a letter about it, or after you’ve told us you owe some tax, for example through a self-assessment return. We work relentlessly to close scams down and make people aware of them. HMRC has a trusted brand which can be abused by fraudsters to trick people trying to fulfil their legal obligations. We have invested heavily in protecting taxpayers against scams and anyone who suffers financial loss as a result of one should inform Action Fraud.”

HMRC has issued the following guidance to people to stop them getting caught out:

Recognise the signs. Genuine organisations like banks and HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, password or bank details.

Stay safe. Don’t give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in emails you weren’t expecting.

Take action. Forward suspicious emails and details of calls claiming to be from HMRC to and texts to 60599, or contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 if you suffer financial loss.

Stop getting nuisance calls and texts

There are some actions you can take to stop getting irritant calls that you don’t want. You shouldn’t get nuisance calls if you didn’t give the caller your number – for example:

  • cold calls trying to sell you something you don’t want or need, like double glazing
  • recorded or automated messages telling you you’re due compensation, perhaps for a mis-sold insurance policy such as PPI

If you’re getting calls about PPI or accidents

Companies calling you about PPI claims, personal injury claims or other claims can’t call you unless you’ve told them they can.  If they call without your permission, you can report them to the Information Commissioner’s Office. It’s helpful if you know the number they called from and the date and time they called. If you don’t have all this information, you can give other details of the call – for example, the name of the company that called you. The Information Commissioner will investigate and can fine the company who called.

Register with the Telephone Preference Service

The best way to stop nuisance calls is to register your number with the Telephone Preference Service. They’ll add you to their list of numbers that don’t want to receive sales and marketing calls. You can also call them to register on 0345 070 0707. It’s illegal for a company to call numbers registered with the Telephone Preference Service, so registering should scare companies away and stop them bothering you. You’ll need your phone number, postcode and an email address to sign up on the Telephone Preference Service website. You can also sign up from your mobile by texting ‘TPS’ and your email address to 85095.

Block nuisance calls 

There are products to block some calls (like international calls or withheld numbers) but be careful they don’t also block calls you want. Ask your phone provider if they have a service to block some numbers, or you can install a call blocking device on your phone yourself.  Ofcom has information about the different services your phone provider may have to tackle nuisance calls.

If you think it’s a scam call

Scams usually involve people being tricked into giving money. If you think a caller is trying to run a scam, you should report it.  Registering with the Telephone Preference Service will stop you getting nuisance calls, but if someone’s still bothering you 28 days after registering, then report them to the Telephone Preference Service.

Registering with the Telephone Preference Service won’t stop you getting nuisance texts. Forward the text to 7726 – this spells ‘SPAM’ on your phone keypad. This will report the sender to your mobile network company. You won’t be charged for forwarding a text to 7726. Reporting nuisance calls or texts also helps regulators track down who’s making them. You’re under no obligation to do this, but it’s quick and easy, and it’ll help more people in the long run.

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