The Taxman Cometh
We are all creatures of habit and routine and normally that is a good thing. As a child I recall the sound of leather on Brian Close heralding the start of the cricket season, these days it allows me to subconsciously prepare for the fact that the first shoots of Spring are always accompanied by my other half screaming at me ‘That lawn is not going to cut itself!
Context is everything. The words ‘Jesus loves you’ might be very comforting in a church, but in the confines of a Mexican prison cell - it’s different. It’s when things happen out of context that alarm bells ring and we suddenly pay more attention; or at least we should. I recently found myself in something of an uncomfortable situation when my neighbour, Wendy, told me about a subject close to my heart. Her husband, Ian, earns shed-loads of money in banking. I’m not sure exactly what he does, however, two weeks out of four are spent abroad. His expertise with figures at work is certainly not matched by his abilities at home as Wendy deals with everything. She runs her home like a military machine, the kids are well fed, clean and polite and all the bills are paid on the dot. Ian is a very lucky man; personally, I never understood what true love was until I got married - but of course by then then it was too late. (It’s probably just as well that this diary is anonymous)
Given the time of year, Wendy had recently completed Ian’s Self Assessment Tax Return on his behalf and had calculated that he was due a rebate of about £650. As a result, she was unfazed when she received a call on her landline, from HMRC. It went something like this,
HMRC ‘Hello Mrs Adams, I’m ringing about your husband’s tax rebate, have you got a minute?’
Wendy ‘Yes of course, how can I help?’
HMRC ‘Everything appears to be in order and I’m just trying to find out if you want your husband’s tax code for next year adjusted to reflect the rebate - or would you prefer the money transferred direct to your account? (laughs) I think I know the answer but I’m required to ask the question.
Wendy (laughs) Surely everyone asks for the cash don’t they?
HMRC ‘Yes of course - and so would I’
Wendy ‘OK tell me what I have to do’
HMRC ‘ Well I was going to grab your bank details, however, my computer has just crashed, I can’t believe this - we have such a backlog.I’m really sorry but can I ring you back when this thing decides to start working again?’
Wendy ‘Yes of course’
HMRC ‘Great - I can’t promise anything but I will do my best’
Wendy then went about her normal daily routine and thought nothing more about it until the phone rang again just before 8pm.
HMRC ‘ Hi Mrs Adams, it’s HMRC again. I’m sorry its so late but I’ve only just got back online. If it’s too late I can call back tomorrow’
Wendy ‘ No it’s not a problem. Where were we?’
HMRC ‘Right, you were just about to give me your bank details so I can credit your account with the full rebate amount’
Wendy ‘Yes that’s fine. Let me just grab my card.
Wendy then went on to provide the caller with all of her details - including the 3 digit security code on the back of the card. HMRC thanked her for her time and assured her the money would be in her account by the next morning. By the time she went to bed, Wendy had already mentally spent most of the rebate money on new shoes for the kids and a deposit on their forthcoming school trip.
Ian rang the following morning to let her know he would be staying in Singapore for another two days and apologised for missing the school play. Wendy mentioned the call from HMRC and had moved on to something else when Ian said ‘Whoa! Stop. Say that again. You gave someone your bank details over the phone? including the security code?’
It was only at that point did Wendy realise how incredibly naive she had been.
Wendy ‘ They must have been from HMRC, how else would they know we are waiting for a rebate?’
Ian, ‘ We are one of hundreds of thousands waiting for a rebate at this time of year, it’s a numbers game. They ring numbers until they hit on someone in our position’
Wendy ‘Damn, I’ve been so stupid’
Ian ‘I’ve just checked the account, we are £20,000 down. The money was moved out at 7.58pm last night’
Wendy immediately rang HMRC and told them her story of woe. They were sympathetic but not surprised and referred her to her local police. The detective who rang her back was incredibly helpful and said that he had already been in touch with the bank and he confirmed that not only had the £20,000 disappeared from her account, but it had been transferred to a business account of ‘Alan James Plumbing’. Wendy was shocked as the owner was not only the guy who replaced her boiler, he was also a family friend. She rang Alan who was as shocked as she was. He had no knowledge of the transfer and immediately told her he would transfer the money back. He did so immediately.
The detective explained to them both that the fraudster was effectively using Alan’s account as a ‘holding account’ rather than transfer it directly to themselves. Sure enough, later the same day Alan was contacted by ‘HMRC’ who explained that one of their data inputters had suffered ‘fat finger syndrome’ and mistakenly transferred £20,000 to his business account and they need him to transfer it to another account. As discussed with the detective, Alan took the details of the account the money was to be transferred to, rang off and updated the detective.
Unfortunately, the account to which the money was to be transferred that was a payment-card account where there was no due diligence required by the bank to open it, and therefore no way of identifying the true owner. You can do it online in minutes. It is not an exaggeration to say that some of these accounts could be opened by Mr Donald Duck from The Big Pond, Essex. I’m struggling to see why such accounts exist, other than to enable fraudsters to disguise their true identity, and therefore reduce the ways in which police can trace them. However, if I’m honest, my loft conversion was paid for using a very similar method! Sorry Wendy.