DAD Steve Sach was left penniless when scammers posing as tax collectors conned him out of £700.
The aviation engineer from Rochford in Essex, was cruelly tricked by scammers pretending to be from HMRC who told him he’d be arrested if he didn’t pay up.
Steve Sach was tricked into handing over £700 by scammers pretending to be from HMRC
“I feel so stupid,” Steve, 44, told The Sun. “I’ve been scammed out of the only money I had. That money was for me and my daughter and for day-to-day living costs and food.
“I don’t have any life savings and when I get paid, that’s all I’ve got until the end of the month.
“I’ve been having to borrow cash from family and friends.”
What made it even harder for Steve, was that he’d saved up this money to spend quality time with his 15-year-old daughter who lives with her mum.
What to do if you’re the victim of a HMRC gift card scamHERE’S what you can do to protect yourself:
If you suspect that you or a vulnerable or elderly relative has been the victim of this scam or a similar one, you should report it immediately to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use its online fraud reporting tool.
You should also contact your bank or card provider to see if it can get the money back for you.
Check GOV.UK for information on how to avoid and report scams and recognise genuine HMRC contact.
If you think you have received an HMRC related phishing/bogus email or text message, you can check it against the examples shown in this guide.
‘As a dad I feel like a failure’
“Time with my daughter is quite precious as she doesn’t live with me. So when I see her I take her to dinner and to social events. But I’ve been unable to do that.
“She’s at an age where I think she understands but when you live apart from your children you try and cherish the time you have together.
“And as a dad it’s quite sad because I also feel like a failure because I was unable to provide for her.”
Steve was contacted by the scammers out of the blue on his mobile back in February.
They initially left a computerised voicemail on his phone telling him he owed £4,300 in unpaid taxes and that they had a warrant for his arrest unless he paid them.
When he called back Steve questioned the scammers authenticity, at which point they told him they’d ring back from an HMRC number.
Steve was planning to use the £700 to pay for living costs and to treat his daughter
Unfortunately for Steve, he hadn’t heard of number spoofing which is where scammers change the number you see on your screen to make it seem like they’re calling from a legitimate source.
They then pressured him in an “aggressive” manner to pay off at least some of his supposed unpaid tax bill given Steve said he couldn’t afford the whole lot.
Keeping him on the phone the whole time, the scammers pressured Steve to leave his workplace without telling anyone and to drive to his nearest Tesco supermarket.
Here he was instructed to buy £700 worth of Amazon gift cards, which he did in three separate transactions.
Steve then had to send the gift card codes by WhatsApp to the scammers – which even had the HMRC logo as their profile picture.’I couldn’t believe it was a scam’
“I was unaware of the type of scam at the time and the guy kept repeating that he had a warrant for my arrest unless I made some kind of payment,” said Steve.
“I said I’ve got a daughter and need to ensure she’s fed and watered but they kept saying they would come to my workplace and arrest me.
“I’ve got pride and I didn’t want the police coming to my office, so I paid out. I couldn’t believe it when I realised it was a scam.”
It was only when Steve told his girlfriend what happened that she flagged that he might have been conned.
The pair checked their Amazon account but by that point the codes had been redeemed and the retailer’s customer services team said they couldn’t help.
How to protect yourself from fraudstersACTION Fraud recommends taking the following advice to stay safe:
When making a purchase, be suspicious of any requests to pay by bank transfer or virtual currency instead of safer methods, such as credit card or payment services such as PayPal.
Listen to your instincts: If something feels wrong then it is usually right to question it. Don’t pay for goods or services unless you know and trust the individual or business.
Personal information obtained from data breaches is making it increasingly easier for fraudsters to create highly targeted phishing messages and calls – watch out for these.
You shouldn’t assume the caller is genuine just because they’re able to provide some basic details about you.
Always be suspicious of unsolicited requests for your personal or financial information.
When The Sun contacted Amazon about the fraud, it declined to comment.
‘I went without money for three weeks and had to borrow cash to get by’
Steve said: “I was devastated when I realised it was a scam. I went without any money for three weeks, and I was dependent on friends and family to get me by.
“It was quite traumatic for myself and partner and meant I was unable to take my daughter out.”
Luckily, Steve has been able to repay his friends and family and he avoided borrowing on credit cards by budgeting carefully that month.
But it’s left him unable to trust people. “I’m at the point, where I don’t trust any phone call I get,” Steve said. “It’s put doubt in there.”
Santander, Steve’s bank, told us that it couldn’t refund the cash as Steve had made a legitimate transaction and received the goods he paid for.
This also meant he couldn’t qualify for a Section 75 or Chargeback claim, which is where your card provider is jointly liable when you don’t get what you paid for.
A spokesperson for the bank said: “We have the utmost sympathy for Mr Sach and all who fall victim to the criminals who carry out these scams.
“The transactions Mr Sach made at his local store were made with his debit card and verified with the correct PIN.
“We use a number of factors to determine suspicious payments but the transactions made by Mr Sach were within the normal spending pattern that might be expected of the customer.
“As the customer received valid goods from the retailer, he wouldn’t be eligible to make a Chargeback claim in this situation.”
How to get your money back after a scamWHETHER you can get your money back after you’ve become a scam victim depends on how you made the payment.Paid using a credit card
If you paid for something on your credit card that cost between £100 and £30,000 and it turns out that it was never available or the seller disappears, then you are protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
This rules that the credit card company is jointly liable when things go wrong so they have to refund you.
Paid by debit card
You might be able to get the money back through the Chargeback scheme, although unlike Section 75 this is a voluntary scheme and not law.
You’ll need to write to your bank explaining what happened and ask for a refund although the exact rules might very between American Express, Maestro and Visa cards.
If funds have been transferred from your account without your authorisation then the bank is obliged to refund the costs.
If you’ve fallen for a scam and handed over security details or you’ve transferred cash to fraudsters then the bank doesn’t not have to give your money back if it feels there was “gross negligence” on your part.
But if you feel the bank’s refusal is unjust then you are entitled to complain to the bank or report the case to the Financial Ombudsman Service. But be aware that this process can take weeks.
Paid with PayPal
You should be covered by PayPal Buyer Protection if payments have been made from your account without your consent, or if the goods are from a bogus seller.
You’re not protected if you handed over your details by filling out a fake PayPal payment page.
Using a money transfer wire service
Unfortuntely, if you made payments through a service like MoneyGram, PayPoint or Western Union then you won’t be able to get your money back.
Tesco told us its staff are trained to monitor suspicious transactions but these are only capped or flagged when £500 is spent on gift cards in one go – Steve made three transactions under this threshold.
A Tesco spokesperson said: “We appreciate the distress this scam would have caused Mr Sach. We have a maximum cap on voucher purchases of £500, and we regularly brief our colleagues to be vigilant for suspicious transactions.”
‘HMRC will never request tax payments by gift card’
HMRC told us it never requests tax debts to be paid by gift card or voucher. A spokesperson said: “We have sympathy for anyone that has lost out to these scams.
“We continue to work relentlessly to close them down and make people aware of them, and encourage any victim to work with the police through Action Fraud to help bring the scammers to justice.
“If you’re in doubt who is contacting you, we recommend you end the call and contact HMRC using one of the numbers or online services available from GOV.UK.
“You can also report suspicious emails and details of calls to email@example.com in order to help us take them down.
“HMRC will never request tax debts are paid in payment vouchers or gift cards.”
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Sadly Steve isn’t the only person to be targeted in this type of scam. We spoke to one man who was conned out of £1,000 after scammers posed as HMRC tax collectors and demanded iTunes vouchers.
£6.5million was lost to scammers to this type of fraud between 1 April 2015 and 31 March 2018, according to crime reporting agency Action Fraud.
We also spoke to a gardener who was conned out of £10,000 in a bank transfer scam by fraudsters impersonating HMRC.
Fraud victim shown how his bank details were being given away for free as ‘taster’ on Telegram app
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