/ Money

TV Licence scammers are spoofing Fairtrade

There’s no rest for the wicked. Scammers have found a way to get a common TV licence scam past your spam filters. Could you spot it? Here’s how they did it.

Last month, we reported that more than £830k has been lost to a TV licensing scam email.

Now it would seem this scam has taken another twist in a bid to circumnavigate your spam filters and steal victims’ personal and bank details.

Make no mistake, this scam is dangerous. The figures already lost to it speak volumes. So how does Fairtrade come in to this?

Email domain spoofing

A Which? colleague recently received the below email:

As you’ll note from the senders email, the scammers have managed to spoof the genuine @fairtrade.org.uk domain, which meant that the target’s spam filters didn’t pick it up.

It’s very much similar to the case we saw back in November, when an HMRC scam was sent under the guise of MI6 – using the Secret Service’s official domain.

We’ve contacted Fairtrade about this and are yet to hear back. We’ll be updating this page if we get a response.

Spotting a TV licence scam

For anyone in a rush and panicking about getting a fine, it’s easy to skim over the sender (which is usually one of the biggest telltale signs the email is a scam) and go straight to the very official-looking email.

TV Licensing has issued several tips for identifying a genuine email from them:

⚠ Check that the email contains your name – TV Licensing will always include your name in any emails it sends you.

⚠ Check the email subject line – be suspicious of subjects such as ‘action required’, ‘security alert’ etc.

⚠ Check the email address – genuine emails will only come from addresses ending with ‘@tvlicensing.co.uk’

⚠ Check the spelling and grammar – look for spelling mistakes, missing full stops or other grammatical errors.

⚠ Asked for personal details? TV Licensing will never ask you to reply to an email to provide bank details or personal information, and you should be wary of any correspondence that does.

Read more about how to spot an email scam in our free guide

Have you received a scam from a reputable organisation’s official email address?

If so, please let us know in the comments below. We not only want to warn others of what the scammers are up to, but let the implicated companies know so they can ramp up their security.


The giveaway in your example is the sentence

“if you will not complete the form…”

but decent grammar and syntax remain the final hurdles for these scammers. If they should master those, heaven help us all.

Robert says:
6 April 2019

Sadly not since the 1960s was proper grammar taught in schools, so how Joe Public is supposed to spot minor errors like that above and the misspelling of Licence is anyone’s guess!
You probably should explain exactly how to see the sender’s email address. It is not that straightforward, especially if you are using a mobile phone to look at emails. 99% of the time the real sender’s address bears no relation to the claimed sender.
Spammers pander to our greed, so the mantra needs to be “ALWAYS look a gift horse in the mouth.” Ask how TV Licensing could have taken such an overpayment in the first place, especially if you are on Direct Debit – it would be a major breach of trust if they had done that. Then why would they be asking you to claim rather than simply refunding the alleged overpayment and writing to tell you they had done it as the banking code requires.
Ian’s advice below is sound – always mistrust any such email (or phone call for that matter). The trouble is that the judgement of some people evaporates when money is waved before their eyes or some threat is made, no matter how improbable. I keep getting calls saying that my BT broadband is about to be disconnected unless I do something; they are easy to ignore as I use Virgin cable, but I would ignore it anyway as BT don’t work like that.

D Hibbert says:
6 April 2019

I too keep getting the BT scam email, the latest concerning my alleged direct debit with them. As I have neither a BT account or direct debit, it is obviously fake. I have contacted the genuine BT complaints line twice and been advised to ignore it.

Robert, I went to school in the 1970’s and proper English grammar was certainly taught then. I had to pass a “Use of English” exam, as part of the admission process for Cambridge University.

Even today, under the national curriculum, state school children receive detailed and very academic lessons about correct English syntax. From what I’ve seen though, many parents struggle to help these children with the related homework. After all, off the top of their heads, not too many will be sure about the meaning of terms such as “adverbial” and so on.

From my occasional visits to public schools, I’m sure they do a better job there. A few years ago I attended the unveiling of a “blue plaque” at a local public school and I was impressed by how polite and how well-spoken our hosts were there.

True, but that could possibly be because they tend to have an inbuilt bias towards the classics. Which is both a danger and a shame, since so many of their intake eventually enter politics. We sorely need some STEM capable MPs… However, I digress.

A friend of mine claims to have eliminated all spam by using e4ward. It’s a free service that allows you to create an email persona for any task. I personally don’t use it, because it can be fiddly, but he finds it invaluable.

The only other option seems to be have a ‘mistrust’ mindset as the default when checking emails.

“TV License” is enough to make it obvious that this is fake.

I wonder if it would be better to dispense with the TV licence and offer a refund to the small number of people who have no need for a licence.

There are indeed a few giveaways in the email itself. As Amelia says, it’s good we publicise these to warn both the public and the companies that have had their domains spoofed. Will let you know as and when we receive a response from Fairtrade on this one.

I support what Which? is doing here. It’s very convenient to have clickable links in emails but maybe the risks outweigh the advantages.

Thanks wavechange. This is something Amelia and I work on regularly together, so the kind words are appreciated 🙂

🙂 There is a great deal of useful information available on the website and I appreciate the fact that so much of it is available to everyone.

I’ve no real feeling for how best to raise awareness of scams and how to avoid them. I wonder if those who have been victim might be the best teachers.

Angie says:
6 April 2019

I received an email saying that my direct debit had failed therefore I needed to set up a new one, at the same time I would have to pay the outstanding amount and update my bank details. I didn’t recognise the account number and licence was spelt license. Also the email address seemed wrong.
So I ignored it.

That is one advantage of being over 75 . A free TV licence means you can blow a raspberry at all such licence related garbage mail and see how fast you can hit the delete button . Not so sure about next year though when HM gropers clobber the freebie.

Tony says:
7 April 2019

I was drawn to the fact that as a UK company they used GBP (generally I would associate this with international transactions) instead of a £ sign and that they used an American date format (3/12/2019) in the subject line.

I had deleted at least two emails about TV licence refunds when this Convo was launched, but another one has arrived:

“After the last calculation, we have determined that you are eligible to receive a £ 83.92 refund representing additional bill payments.

We are unable to direct charge your bank account because your payment details is invalid in our records.

Submit your refund request and allow us to credit your account within 10 business days.

Click “Sign in to your license” and follow the steps in order to have process your account.

Thanks again. Your licence fee helps keep your old favourites on air, and bring new favourites to life.”