A warning has been issued for the festive season as a cold call phone scam continues to target the vulnerable and elderly.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) says the scammers call the victims impersonating an HMRC member of staff.
A statement from the HMRC said: "They tell them that they owe large amounts of tax which they can only pay off through digital vouchers and gift cards, including those used for Apple’s iTunes Store.
"Victims are told to go to a local shop, buy these vouchers and then read out the redemption code to the scammer who has kept them on the phone the whole time.
"The conmen then sell on the codes or purchase high-value products, all at the victim’s expense."
HMRC said the scammers frequently use intimidation to get what they want, threatening to seize the victim’s property or involve the police.
"The use of vouchers is an attractive scam as they are easy to sell on and hard to trace once used," the statement said.
"HMRC would never request the settling of debt through such a method."
Figures from Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre, show that between the beginning of 2016 and August this year there had been more than 1,500 reports of this scam, with the numbers increasing in recent months.
The vast majority of the victims are aged over 65 and suffered an average financial loss of £1,150 each.
'Very confident, convincing and utterly ruthless'
Angela MacDonald, HMRC’s director general of customer services, said: “These scammers are very confident, convincing and utterly ruthless.
"We don’t want to see anyone fall victim to this scam just before Christmas. That’s why we're working closely with crime fighters to ensure taxpayers know how to avoid it.
“These scams often prey on vulnerable people. We urge people with elderly relatives to warn them about this scam and remind them that they should never trust anyone who phones them out of the blue and asks them to pay a tax bill.
"If you think you’ve been a victim you should contact Action Fraud immediately.”
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.
Alternatively, use the online tool here.