Financial snoopers target tax offices

The Inland Revenue has tightened up security after staff were duped into revealing confidential information about taxpayers.

An internal memorandum warns officials to beware of an ingenious trick used by companies which specialise in the supply of information about individuals' financial affairs.

The simple 'sting' operation begins when the trickster rings a taxpayer's accountant - or other source of information - posing as a Revenue employee.

The accountant is asked a series of questions and invited to ring a genuine Inland Revenue switchboard number with the answers.

The bogus caller, still posing as an official, then contacts the Revenue office, and asks the switchboard personnel to field the call rather than pass it to a department. The 'sting' comes when the snooper telephones the accountant again pretending to be a Revenue employee returning his call.

Management's memo reminds staff that thay have a 'personal legal obligation' to safeguard private material. 'It is vitally important . . . that you positively identify telephone inquiries or personal callers who are seeking confidential information.

'Some bogus inquiries may appear to have a considerable knowledge of Revenue practice and internal procedures.'

The document says the trick has been used at tax offices in Bournemouth and Bromley, and registers concern that it could be used elsewhere. The memo tells staff: 'Remember to be always on your guard when confidentiality and taxpayer privacy are at stake.'

Clive Brooke, leader of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation, said: 'The threat from bogus inquiries demonstrates how foolish it is to put confidentiality at risk by closing local tax offices and switching their functions to large anonymous offices where staff have less personal knowledge of the people they are dealing with. The Government's policy of contracting out tax work will make the position far worse.'

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