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14 Mar 2019

More than £830k lost to TV Licensing scam

How to spot and avoid this common scam, and what to do if you've fallen victim

UPDATE 14 March 2019: Victims have lost more than £830,000 to the TV Licensing scam designed to steal victims' personal and bank details.

In the space of a year, Action Fraud has received more than 900 reports of losses due to the phishing email and says it's continuing to see the scam in high numbers.

How to protect yourself from the TV Licensing scam:

  1. Don't assume an email or phone call is genuine, even if it includes some of your basic information such as your name or address. Criminals can spoof email addresses so it looks like a legitimate organisation is contacting you.
  2. If you get an email promising a refund, always be suspicious and don't rush to click a link. Search the organisation and 'refund' in a search engine and see if there are any reported scams.
  3. Don't click on links or open attachments in suspicious emails and never respond to messages which ask for personal details.
  4. Remember your bank will never ask for your Pin, full password or tell you to transfer money out of your account.

At the start of the year, we reported there was a new version of the TV Licensing scam doing the rounds.

Thisversion warns that your TV licence couldn't be automatically renewed because something went wrong with your direct debit payments.

It then urges you to set up a new direct debit by following a link.

Last year, Action Fraud received hundreds of reports of scam TV Licensing refund or payment issue emails in just a matter of days, adding up to more than 2,500 complaints throughout September and October 2018.

The fake emails are sent by scammers in a bid to steal bank account and personal details. Here, we take a look at how these scams work, the emails to look out for and what to do if you have fallen victim.

If you've received a fraudulent email, text or call, be sure to follow our guide on how to report a scam.

How does the TV Licensing refund email scam work?

The emails claim that TV Licensing has been trying to get hold of the victim regarding a refund for an overpayment or that a refund is owed, but due to invalid account details it hasn't been paid.

The fraudsters include links to convincing-looking cloned TV Licensing websites designed to harvest bank account and credit card details.

We asked Action Fraud for examples of these scams. Look out for emails that don't include your correct name or that contain spelling or grammatical errors - like the examples below.

How does the TV Licensing payment issue scam email work?

Other fraudulent TV licence emails doing the rounds, state that the receiver's billing information records are out of date and need to be updated. As with the refund emails, these include a prominent link to a near-identical clone of the real TV Licensing website, Comparitech reported.

As in the examples below, that were sent to Which? staff, some of these emails are claiming you need to update your details to renew your TV licence or that your licence has been cancelled.

Victims who fall for these scams are asked for a lengthy list of personal and financial information:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Email
  • Mother's maiden name
  • Credit or bank card number and details
  • TV licence account number.

Once the victim submits this information, it goes straight to the scammers.

How to spot a TV licence scam

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 Anything along the lines of 'Action required', 'Security alert', 'System upgrade', 'There is a secure message waiting for you', and so on, should be treated as suspect.
  • Check the email address Does the email address look like one that TV Licensing uses? For example, donotreply@tvlicensing.co.uk. Look closely, as often the address may be similar.
  • Check for a change in style Often the scammers will take the real emails and amend them. Look out for changes in the wording used, especially if it seems too casual or familiar.
  • Check for spelling and grammar Are there any spelling mistakes, missing full stops or other grammatical errors?
  • Check the links go to the TV Licensing website Hover over the links in the email to see their destination and check the web address carefully. If you're not sure, go directly to the TV Licensing website.

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.

The rise of TV Licensing refund scams

Action Fraud reported a significant increase in the number of reports of TV licence scam emails in September, as shown in the graph below.

Between 1 and 20 September, there were 799 reports of scam emails promising a TV licence refund sent to the phishing inbox - an average of 40 emails a day. After the report, there was another sharp increase in the number of complaints, up to a whopping 68 per day, on average.

We issued a warning about the TV licence refund scams on the Which? Facebook page, and at the time of writing the post has been shared more than 4,700 times.

It's unclear why there has been such a sharp increase in these scam emails, but we will be keeping an eye on the situation and updating this post with the latest versions of these scams.

What to do if you've entered your personal details

If you've entered personal details, you need to be extra vigilant.

  • If you receive any suspicious emails or odd postal messaging going forward, ignore them - they could be from a scammer hoping you'll fall for their next scam.
  • Keep an eye on your credit report and bank accounts - scammers can use personal information to steal your identity and open new accounts or take out credit.
  • The scammer could also add your details to a 'suckers lists' of people who are liable to fall for a future scams, commonly sold on the dark web.

Whatever form a message comes in, make sure you don't give away any bank details or passwords. Read our guide on how to spot an email scamfor top tips about identifying email scams.