Coronavirus: warnings raised over fake 'Council Tax reduction' scam emails

Chartered Trading Standards Institute warning of huge sie in Council Tax reduction scams. Here's how to stay safe.

The Coronavirus pandemic may have been incredibly challenging for most of us, but it has provided quite the boon for criminals.

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) says that it has seen an “unprecedented” rise in opportunism and scam activity as a result of Covid-19, with a “seemingly endless stream” of scams related to the virus aimed at members of the public.

And the latest, potentially effective scam, focuses on Council Tax reductions.

How does the scam work?

According to the new report from the CTSI, an email scam is now doing the rounds claiming to offer a Council Tax reduction.

The email is covered in the branding of the UK Government and is signed off by the ‘Government Digital Service Team’.

 

It invites recipients to click on a link to ‘claim your council tax reduction now’.

If you do so you’re taken over to a convincing-looking landing page, again covered in Government branding, where you are asked to share all sorts of personal details. These include the likes of your name, address and banking details.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, this is a phishing scam, designed to get you to hand over your personal information so that the crooks can commit identity fraud, taking out further products in your name, or gain access to your existing accounts.

Taking advantage of a crisis

Katherin Hart, lead officer at CTSI, said this was “yet another” email scam using the pandemic as an opportunity to target an “increasingly vulnerable public”.

She added: “I am deeply concerned that people may fall prey to this, since many are out of work, or furloughed, and would welcome a Council Tax refund.”

And this is really the nub of the issue. In normal times, people may be a little bit more on the ball about scams like this, and spot them for the frauds they are. But these aren’t normal times.

Instead we have millions of people across the country with very real money worries, which may make them more susceptible to clicking a link they’d ordinarily ignore, to sharing details they’d normally protect more rigorously.

When people are desperate, they are more likely to make mistakes. And the sad fact is that right now we have an awful lot of very desperate people.

Cutting your Council Tax bill the right way

While it’s possible to cut your Council Tax bill, it’s not something the Government is going to contact you out of the blue about. Instead you will have to appeal for yourself.

For more on how to do this, check out our guide on how to cut your Council Tax bill.

Touching our buttons

Thankfully there will be plenty of people who receive this email and quickly twig that it’s a scam. 

But that doesn’t mean you will dodge the next pandemic-themed scam that reaches you, whether it’s an email, a text message or even a letter.

After all, Covid-19 is proving big business for fraudsters, with the fraud experts at Action Fraud suggesting that between the start of the lockdown and mid-May an incredible £3.5 million had been stolen in Coronavirus-related scams.

All of us will have different areas where we may be more susceptible to the sweet-talking of a scammer ‒ while you might confidently spot a dodgy Council Tax email, a voicemail supposedly from HM Revenue & Customs might prove more effective at duping you out of your money.

The key is to stay alert, not just about the virus itself but also the other dangers present at the moment as a result of the pandemic, such as the significant rise in the number of scam attempts taking place.

If something looks too good to be true ‒ and even in these strange times an unsolicited offer of a tax refund still falls into this category ‒ then chances are it’s a scam. And if you’re in any doubt then be sure to contact the firm or organisation separately to check its veracity for yourself.

Be sure to read our piece on some of the other big Coronavirus scams doing the rounds at the moment.

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