HMRC enlists shopworkers to halt iTunes tax scam

HMRC is ramping up its battle against the iTunes phone scam it says is conning vulnerable and elderly people out of thousands of pounds, by writing to the chief executives of major UK retailers, urging them to alert their staff so that they can act as the last line of defence against fraudsters

The scammers prey on victims by cold calling them and impersonating HMRC employees. 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.

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 in Hertfordshire losing £20,000 after being repeatedly targeted by the fraudsters.

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 fraud.

Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mel Stride, publicly praised two Tesco Linwood staff members, who prevented customers from being conned out of £1,000 by HMRC impersonators.

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.’

Report by Pat Sweet

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