What is it?
You’re convinced to make a payment or give personal and financial details to someone claiming to be from an organisation you trust. This could include the police, your bank, a delivery or utility company, communication service provider or a government department such as HMRC or the DVLA .
These scams often begin with a phone call, text or email that appears to be from a trusted organisation. Criminals can use a tactic called ‘spoofing’ to make their call or text appear genuine by cloning the number or sender ID which is displayed on your phone. In some cases criminals even trick you by sending couriers to collect your cards, PINs or valuable items in person.
How to spot an impersonation scam
- You receive a call, text, email or social media message with an urgent request for your personal or financial information, to make a payment or move money
- You’re asked to act immediately, sometimes with the claim that ‘your money is at risk’, ‘your account will be blocked’ or ‘there are suspicious transactions on your account’. If you don’t act immediately you may be threatened with arrest or the prospect of losing all of your money
- The caller asks you to transfer money to another account for ‘safe-keeping’ or for you to buy high value goods/vouchers to cover the cost of fines
- The sender’s email address is ever so slightly different to that of the genuine sender
Examples of impersonation scams
Transfer money to a ‘safe’ account
Roy* received a call from someone claiming to be from his bank’s fraud team enquiring about several suspicious payments on his account which he didn’t recognise. He was told that his account had been compromised and he urgently needed to move money into a ‘safe’ account to protect it. Roy did so and transferred his entire savings into a ‘safe account’ which actually belonged to the criminal.
Problems with your internet connection
Leanne* was contacted by an ‘employee’ from her broadband company informing her the internet router she was using had been hacked. The caller asked for remote access to Leanne’s computer and said that she would receive £500 as compensation for the inconvenience. Leanne provided her bank details and was told to log onto her online banking to check the money had been received. However, £5,000, not £500, was deposited and she was asked to refund the overpayment to another bank account. By then, the criminal had taken control of all her accounts and the ‘£5,000’ deposit was in fact money moved around from Leanne’s other accounts.
Damon* was contacted by a police officer claiming that staff at his local bank branch were issuing counterfeit notes and his assistance was needed in an undercover police operation. He was instructed to make a large withdrawal from his account to then be handed over to the police for ‘analysis’ believing that he would receive his money back after the investigation. Once Damon’s money had been handed over, he never heard back from the police officer.
Outstanding HMRC tax bill
Sally* was busy working when her phone started ringing. She hastily answered it noticing at a quick glance that the caller ID said HMRC. The automated call from Officer Mark Wilson from HMRC took her by surprise. She was urged to call the number provided immediately, with failure to do so resulting in legal consequences, including the threat of an arrest warrant. Sally was confused and shaken, the caller’s tone, although automated, sounded official and included details pertaining to their department, which led her to dismiss that this could be a scam. She hurriedly keyed in the phone number and was informed of an outstanding tax bill amounting to £4,675 that required urgent payment. The officer urged Sally to make the payment, reinforcing that she would receive a criminal record if she refused. Panic stricken, she read out her bank details to the criminal purporting to be Mark unaware that she was in fact being scammed.
*These case studies are based on insights from partners
Listen to a scam HMRC call below: