/ Money

Scam alert: COVID-19 council tax reduction email

There’s a fake GOV.UK email doing the rounds falsely claiming you’ve qualified for a council tax reduction due to the pandemic. Here’s what it looks like.

We’ve been sent multiple examples of a new COVID-19 phishing email attempting to trick you into giving away personal and bank details in return for the promise of a refund. 

Read all the latest COVID-19 news and advice on our dedicated hub

It’s another spoofing scam taking advantage of the current situation, particularly preying on those who could qualify for a council tax reduction and might assume the email is genuine.

This is one version of the email that we’ve seen, but there are others circulating with similar messaging:

The email uses GOV.UK branding and similar wording to government communications, as well as being disguised to appear as though it’s come from a legitimate GOV.UK email address. 

Clicking the link takes you to a page that asks for your personal details – the scammers could then use these details to get access to your money.

Guide: how to spot a fake or fraudlent website

Spotting fake government emails

The email does give a few hints that all is not what it seems; official emails from the government about taxes and other payments will address you by name at the start of the message. But this email is generic, addressed to nobody in particular. 

There’s poor use of spelling and grammar, with capital letters in the wrong places and statements that don’t quite make sense. 

What’s more, the amount of refund in the subject line (£385.55)  is different to the amount you’ll supposedly get that’s stated in the main email (£385.50). 

Can I get a council tax reduction?

Some councils are in fact offering council tax payment breaks and reductions for those who are suffering financial difficulties because of the coronavirus crisis.

But if you do need to apply for help, get in touch with your council directly.

The government, or your local council, won’t be reaching out to you directly to offer tax breaks, so be cautious of any messages you receive that promise them.

If you do get an email from GOV.UK that you’re not sure about, you can always contact the government department that claims to have sent it to ask if it’s real. 

Use contact details listed on the Gov.UK website rather than contact details contained in the email.

You can take a look at our consumer rights guide to find out more about spotting tax and government scams.

Have you received this email, or something similar recently? Tell us in the comments below. You can also contact us at scamwatch@which.co.uk.

We’ve also recently launched a free scam email alert service. Register to get the latest updates on scams as we uncover them.

Comments
Joanne says:
21 May 2020

I am getting a lot of fake tv licensing email

Would’nt correspondence from the Local Authority include a Reference & or Account Number?

Yes, Peter . . . and because council tax is a property tax any communication would be sent to the address of the property, not to an e-mail address that could be anywhere.

In my experience, council tax departments always include the taxpayer’s name in the address; even the annual council tax bill is personally addressed because each bill is based on a number of personal or individual circumstances [banding, reliefs, discounts, exemptions, etc]. In many areas they also have to reflect the parish or town council rates which tend to differ one from another

Any notification would come from the district, London borough, metropolitan borough or city council, which are the tax collecting authorities, not from the government.

I did not have a council tax scam but I did have a TV licence scam sent one day and it said I must pay by the next day, what drew my attention was, not only the content of the email but the spelling was wrong, luckily I kept my TV licence when I had my first free licence it had a phone number on it, this I used, I was told our free TV licence has been extended to August 2020, they also said that they would write to me not email, I may be 89 but I am fully aware of TV scams, readers beware.

John Pigott says:
22 May 2020

Thankyou for recent info on scams. I really appreciate your advice.

I maintain a handy list of all our utility accounts [phones, gas, electricity, water, TV licence, council tax, boiler service, car tax, MOT, insurance]. It shows the account or reference number, expiry date, and the current amount payable [where appropriate]. Once set up it is easy to keep it up to date and it provides a rapid check on any dubious communication.

I also keep a list of all our magazine and other subscriptions and memberships.

If any e-mail does not include key identifiers [like address, postcode, account number] then I regard it with suspicion.

If it starts “valued customer” then I know it’s likely to be a scam.

I recently received a ‘phishing’ e-mail that unfortunately showed the e-mail addresses of all the other people to whom it was sent, any of whom could now start sending dodgy or opportunistic e-mails. I reported the primary e-mail and blocked the sender but the internet remains far from secure; if something can be forwarded to a party with fraudulent intent the chances are that eventually it will be.

I keep track of all my finances on MS Money. It includes a “Bills” section where all regular, or one off, transactions can be listed with all details, payment date(s), and reminders to pay.

John’s post reminded me to download a list of current direct debits, which I have not done recently thanks to recent events. It provides reference numbers, last payment date and the amount. Since I pay everything I can by direct debit, it’s a long list.

Although I have never lost control, I am not very disciplined about keeping track of my finances so I don’t do very much apart from occasionally looking at my current account on-line. I am more concerned with tracking the dates of things so my utilities and subscriptions lists are mainly so that I don’t get in a tangle with renewals or false demands [like the TV licensing scam].

Following Wavechange’s comment, I have just checked and appear to have over thirty direct debits of varying frequency, some of variable amounts, of which eleven seem to go out on the first of the month. I never allow auto-renewal so I deal with insurance and subscriptions as they arise thus encouraging me to review each item before committing.

You win, John. After cancellation of some subscriptions I’m down to 20 DDs – including a monthly one for 79p. I don’t allow automatic renewal of insurances, partly because of the risk of price hikes but also it encourages me to check that I have the cover I need. In the past I have had my house and contents insurer provide extend their cover, which might look attractive until you realise that it may be of no practical value.

In the early days of home internet, pyramid schemes were popular. Can’t quite remember how they worked now, but you sent money to the sender and forwarded the email to a number of other people.

A friend forwarded one to me and I was furious to see the multitude of emails addresses in the To, CC, and the body of the email. I was included in the 10 or so emails she forward to other people, who if they partook would have forwarded them to another 10 people and so on.

I believe that was the start of much of the spam that followed.

I’ve made myself unpopular at times by explaining the importance of using BCC to conceal who else has been sent the same email. When doing so I indicate that the message is sent to a group in case anyone assumes it is just for them.

GDPR helped cut down the spam I receive but despite my best efforts I still get some junk mail.

I send club and county emails to moderately large numbers of people and use bcc. I wonder how many people know the use of this. But I have no idea if it can be opened by some vagabond to see the list of recipients.

I don’t think so. At one time some mail systems did not show the bcc option unless it was turned on.

What many overlook is that there is no way of stopping the recipient of an e-mail from forwarding it to anyone else, so even with the use of BCC, e-mails are still a risky form of communication as the writer cannot control the circulation. In the days of hard copy and no home printers it was not easy or cheap to reproduce and send out restricted material so it rarely happened outside the intended circle of interest.

Photocopying a letter did the same, albeit not so easily. I still have some carbon paper which is very useful in the workshop for transferring some designs onto wood.

Few people had free and easy access to a photocopier years ago, Malcolm, and then there was the cost of postage and envelopes. The internet has enabled us to do so much more very economically but we should not lose sight of the downsides of the proliferation of documentation, some of which unfortunately falls into the wrong hands.

It was not unusual for certain types to join membership organisations in order to get access to the members’ contact details. I was able to identify the source of some spam when it was commonplace for local organisations to mail out material unprotected by BCC. Such mistakes still occur occasionally.

This Convo is about a current scam and it would be good to continue these comments elsewhere.

True, but very little has been posted on council tax scams. We’ve had comments on direct debits ( 🙂 ), bcc ( 🙂 ), tracking finances – something we should all do – pyramid schemes….. in other words the usual interesting digressions when there seems little progress in the original topic.

Perhaps, in an ideal world, we might have scams under one heading, indexed to each type and latest, rather than separated as they are now. Occasional summaries of what is going on. Convos generally lack any summary of the useful stuff that gets posted, something that I think would add considerably to their value.

It’s being worked on.

Had a similar one from “Gov.uk Team” saying I have a “tax refund (rebate) of £519.34”, and a link to “Access your funds now>”

J Jones says:
22 May 2020

I have recently received a prerecorded message on my landline, supposedly from Amazon relating to Amazon prime. I was asked to press 1 if I wanted to cancel my subscription and they even quoted the last 4 digits of my credit card. I terminated the call and checked on line my status with Amazon and noted, as I expected, I didn’t subscribe to Prime. I could not find a way of contacting Amazon to ask for advice or for me to confirm that it was indeed a scam

I’ve received a fake community tax refund but thankfully realised that it was fake. I’ve learnt to look for obvious errors in the email.
Does anyone if the ISA rate of 8% is it a scam? The reason I ask is that the rates I’ve been offered is 0.05% and other banks are offering similar rates. It seem to good to be true! So I think it must be. I would like to be proved wrong though lol!

Shirley – It is indeed far too good to be true.

I’ve received this council tax email a couple of times now, very suspect and checking here confirms suspicion.
Also received the TV licence one and I don’t even pay it !
My wife pays for the TV licence.