Warning: debt collection and council tax email scam

There always seems to be a scam trying to trick us out of our cash or attempting to give us a virus on our computers. Thanks for that, internet scam people. Who are you by the way? Who actually does this?

Anyway, whether it’s a witchcraft spell to make your ex-lover return to you or a request for money from a mysterious person in another country, we’ve got to be on the ball.

While some scams are pretty obvious (sorry random stranger on the internet, I can’t ‘wire’ you £400 for your ‘treatment’ right now), some can catch us off guard.

I often receive calls from my mother pondering the validity of an email from ‘App1e’ or ‘eB@y’. My response usually being: “DELETE! DELETE! DO NOT CLICK ON THAT EMAIL!” The reality is, it can happen to the best of us. So what scams are doing the rounds at the moment?

Council tax payment and debt collection email scams

Well, as the headline suggests, the latest scams to hit our inboxes are convincing emails about council tax bills and debt repayments to local businesses.

Action Fraud recently noticed a surge of people reporting that they’d received such emails and has some examples of the scam emails on their report page.

These emails can look convincing however in reality they’re phishing scams that can lead to viruses being installed on your computer when you click on the links in them. Fun times, no?

What exactly is a phishing scam?

If you’re wondering what a ‘phishing scam’ actually is (not to be confused with ‘fishing’ – thanks Wikipedia!), I looked up the definition online because I didn’t really know either:

The fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers, online.

Basically it’s people sending out fraudulent emails, pretending to be from real companies with the aim of getting our personal information like passwords and card details. So they can rob us, I assume.

Again, it’s really important to stress here that you shouldn’t click on these emails and definitely don’t share any information online if you’re unsure of the legitimacy of the company asking you for it.

So, what should I look out for?

Research from Which?, as part of their latest campaign Safeguard us from scams, has shown that 6 in 10 people have been targeted by online scams in the past 12 months, so it’s important that we know what to expect from a phishing scam email.

Here’s what to look out for in the debt collection and council tax bill scam emails, that we’re aware of, doing the rounds at the moment.

1. Council tax bill payments

This email is claiming to be from the council informing people about a new way they can pay their council tax bill online. It may also say that you’ve missed a payment towards your bill and could appear to be from a realistic email address.

Here’s an example of the scam email on the Action Fraud website. If you’re unsure if the email is real, get in touch with your local council and they’ll be able to let you know for certain.

HMRC also have information about what to look out for when it comes to fraudulent emails sent from people pretending to be them. You can read their article about identifying phishing scams on their website.

2. Debt repayment emails

The ‘outstanding debt’ email is a sneaky one because it’s likely to contain information tailored to you so it seems very legitimate. It’s also likely to include the address of a local business and will probably claim that you’ve missed payments to them. The trouble is it certainly is not legit.

In fact Peer, our boss, received one and this is what he has to say on the matter:

“I received one of these phishing emails last month, and I was surprised how genuine it looked. It had my full name and address, and also listed a local building company that I ‘owed’ money to.

“Even after many years of working with the industry, I initially considered clicking on the link because it looked so real, but then I thought about it rationally – after all, I’d not had any building work done to my house for years!

“So it’s no surprise that people are taken in by the email. But if you have any doubt, don’t click on any link in an email you’re not sure on!”

Yes, a key lesson in all of this: never click the link. Some of the things you should look out for in these phishing emails include:

  1. Use of your name and address – How’d they even get this information in the first place? That’s what I want to know
  1. Information about a local business – Pretty easy to get if they have your address already
  1. Claiming to act on behalf of a legitimate company – The example Action Fraud has used is ‘Optex Ltd’
  1. A link to your ‘invoice’ – Which you almost definitely should not click on

Unfortunately, Peer deleted his scam email in an attempt to protect his identity being stolen online (just when I needed a copy of said email; so selfish) but here’s the example used on the Action Fraud website. If you’re unsure you could always give the company listed in the email a call to see what’s going on.

4 things you should do if you think you’ve received a spam email

If you think an email could be spam, follow these four golden rules.

  1. Don’t open it if you don’t recognise the sender. You’ll often be able to spot a spam email as it’ll be from a strange email address or the sender’s name will be unfamiliar. If you do open it, check for things like spelling mistakes and oddly worded sentences, including incorrect capitalisation and punctuation.
  1. Don’t click on any links in the email! This includes any ‘unsubscribe’ link, as this is often another trick to get you to download a virus. If it’s a hyperlink, hover your mouse over the link to see where it’ll take you if you click it.
  1. Don’t download the attachments. Just promise me you won’t!
  1. Report it to Action Fraud, the national fraud and cyber-crime reporting centre, using their online fraud reporting tool

On a side note, if you’re worried about your information being shared online, Action Fraud has a useful guide to help you prevent identity fraud.

Which? have also put together a guide to help you spot a scam. The guide includes tips such as looking out for spelling mistakes and offers that seem too good to be true.

Now that we’ve got all of this cleared up, I’d like to take a moment to tell you about my great, great uncle living thousands of miles away who urgently needs money for treatment against a rare illness you’ve never heard of…

But on a serious note, have you received any scam emails recently? Let us know in the comments below, so we all know what to look out for.

Posted by in Living with debt