Criminals posing as council staff are targeting people across the country in a new wave of council tax scams offering bogus refunds or threatening fines, town hall leaders warn today.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, says fraudsters are contacting residents by text, email and phone to con them out of money and access personal bank details.
The scammers tell people they have either paid too much council tax and are due a refund which they offer to claim on their behalf for a fee. A similar scam demands payment for council tax arrears.
Another scam aims to convince people their property is in the wrong council tax band and offers to secure a refund, again in return for a payment – even though a council tax band reassessment is available for free.
Fees of £150 have been quoted in the scams which falsely claim to be from local councils or the Valuation Office Agency in a bid to appear official and trick people into falling victim to them. Some also use the Government’s GOV.UK branding in text messages and emails in a bid to appear more convincing, and often include a link to a fake official-looking website to claim the refund.
The LGA is urging anyone who receives an email, text message or phone call offering a council tax refund not to give out any personal information, particularly bank account details, or debit or credit card details.
They should delete the email or text, block the sender and make sure they do not reply or click on any links. Any such phone calls should be brought to an end as quickly as possible.
Residents who wish to have their council tax band assessed, can do so for free by contacting the Valuation Office Agency. This information will have been supplied to residents with either a previous or current council tax bill.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:
“Cold-hearted criminals are using more convincing council tax scams which are being sent out barrage-style and reported by local authorities all across the country.
“These council tax scams can damage people’s lives, both financially and emotionally, and anyone can be fooled by them, especially if they appear to look official.
“Anyone who is contacted about a council tax refund or assessment over their council tax band which includes a request for personal information and bank details should ignore it and report it.
“Councils will never phone, text or email residents to ask for a payment to release a council tax refund or ask for personal bank details.
“Most fraud is preventable if individuals and businesses follow simple advice, but victims shouldn’t suffer in silence or feel embarrassed. By reporting a scam, people can help someone else avoid being a victim.”
Anyone who receives a suspected council tax scam can report it to their local council.
- Chesterfield Borough Council has received reports from residents who have received a call from someone claiming to be from the council and asking for bank details to give a refund on council tax.
- Newark and Sherwood District Council has reported that criminals are sending residents text messages using GOV.UK branding stating they are due a council tax refund, which include a link to claim the refund.
- South Lakeland District Council has warned residents about a council tax message scam. The fraudsters are messaging residents’ mobile phones claiming they are due a council tax refund and asking for personal information, including their bank details.
- Northumberland County Council has received a number of complaints about phone calls and text messages from a caller claiming to offer to reassess their council tax band for a £150 fee. The caller falsely claims to be acting on behalf of the council.
- Mid Devon District Council has warned residents about a new scam offering a council tax refund in order to obtain bank account details. The scam text includes GOV.UK branding and includes a fake link.
- North East Lincolnshire Council has warned that fraudsters are sending a text message entitled ‘overpayment’, inviting them to apply for a council tax refund for the council tax year ending 2018. It includes a link to a webpage which resembles the Government’s GOV.UK website but it is fake.
- Wealden District Council has received reports from residents who have received a bogus email claiming that their council tax account is in credit and instructing them to click on a link to claim a refund. It has also received reports of a scam email asking for payments because of council tax arrears.