Fraudsters pretending to be from HMRC are targeting people in an iTunes scam, according to police.
People in the Durham area have been warned to be on guard after a number of reports were made to police over recent days.
Victims have been contacted in a variety of methods, including voicemails and text messages, and told they owe an outstanding debt.
They have then been informed that the payment can be made quickly and easily by using an iTunes gift card voucher code, which can be purchased online or in store.
The fraudsters claim that failure to clear the ‘debt’ will lead to a fine or even an arrest.
Once the conmen have the serial code they are then free to use it, at the victim’s expense.
One such case in the Durham area has led to the victim being out of pocket by £2,500, with another victim in another part of the country losing £15,000.
Stores are being contacted to put them on their guard if they have any suspicions about large purchases of iTunes vouchers, and a few days ago quick thinking by staff at the Durham branch of WH Smith prevented a woman in her 80s buying £250 worth of iTunes gift cards after she received an automated voicemail.
Det Con Tony Murray, from Durham Constabulary's economic crime unit, said: “Fraudsters are now moving onto iTunes gift cards to collect money from victims because they can be easily redeemed and quick purchases can be made with them.
"The scammers don’t need the physical card to redeem the value and instead get victims to read out the serial code on the back over the phone.
“They are putting the victims under real pressure by stating if the debt is not repaid swiftly then the police will be sent to arrest them.
"These types of criminals are expert in what they do and very skilled at sounding plausible.
“We would urge people to hang up on fraud.
"Official bodies such as HMRC, banks and the police do not carry out their business in this way.
"If you have any concerns about a call, a text or a voicemail you have received then simply say that you do not do business on the phone and hang up.”
Watch out for cold calls using the number 0300 200 3300 – this is being used by the ‘HMRC’ conmen.
For further information on how to protect yourself from fraud, visit www.takefive-stopfraud.org.uk or follow takefivestopfraud on Facebook.