Warning: Three cost of living scams to watch out for as fraudsters try to exploit the crisis
Criminals are increasingly trying to capitalise on the cost of living crisis by targeting households with bogus offers of rebates, grants and support payments. But official Government support payments are usually automatic, so if you get a request for information out of the blue via text, email, or phone call – be wary.
Our warning comes as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) starts making cost of living payments to millions of households today (14 July) and has urged people not to give out sensitive personal information over text message or email.
The alert from DWP follows similar warnings about scam messages claiming to be from local Government authorities and the energy regulator Ofgem, and so we take you through what to watch out for with each of the three scams below. For more information on stopping scams, see our 30+ ways to stop scams guide.
1. BEWARE texts asking you to claim or apply for cost of living help – payments are automatic
DWP told us it had seen texts claiming to come from "Gov.org" and one which said it was from DWP. It added that some people had received scam texts followed up by an email asking them to call a fake number to provide more info.
But you DON'T need to apply or do anything else to claim the payment, which is initially worth £326. If you're eligible, you'll automatically receive the money straight into your bank account – see when to expect it.
2. Councils will NEVER call to ask for your bank details
A number of councils, including North Devon, Stevenage and more, as well as the Local Government Association - which represents local authorities - have urged households not to give out their bank or card details over the phone if they get a call about the £150 council tax rebate.
In most cases, the rebate is paid automatically to those who pay their council tax by direct debit - and most people who pay by direct debit should have received their payment by now.
For those who don't pay by direct debit, most councils are collecting bank details using secure online forms. See our council-by-council info for how payments will be made.
If you get a call and you're not sure the caller is genuine, hang up and call your council directly using the contact number on its website.
3. Ofgem is NOT offering a £400 energy rebate - so beware scammers telling you this
Last month, energy regulator Ofgem wrote to all domestic energy providers asking them to make customers aware of a scam text inviting people to apply for a bogus £400 rebate.
In May, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that all households with an electricity supply would receive a £400 grant. However, this will be paid in lump sums from October automatically – there's no need to apply.
You will never be texted by Ofgem to sign up to anything in order to get money or a rebate – so if you get a text like this, don't respond to it or click any links.
If you're worried you've been scammed, here's what to do
Below is a checklist of what you should do if you think you've been scammed:
- If you've already responded to a scam, end all further communication immediately.
- Call your bank directly and cancel any recurring payments – for speed and ease, you can alternatively call the new 159 hotline.
- Report the scam to the police through Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or report a scam anonymously on the Action Fraud website. If you're in Scotland, report a scam through Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000 or on the Advice Direct Scotland website. You can also report scams to Police Scotland on 101.
- If you wish to seek further help, contact Citizens Advice Scams Action via the Citizens Advice website, or call its Scams Action helpline on 0808 250 5050.
Here's how you can report a wide variety of scams quickly
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) sets out a number of different ways to report scams depending on the type:
- Email scams. If you get a dodgy looking email, you can report it to the NCSC by forwarding it to email@example.com. Remember not to click on any links within these emails.
- Text scams. If you get a suspicious text message, you can forward it to the number 7726 – this will allow your provider to track the origin of the text and arrange to block or ban the sender if it's a scam. You can also report scam text messages to firstname.lastname@example.org by providing a screenshot of the text message.
- Website scams. If you notice a website that doesn't look quite right, you can easily report the URL to the NCSC directly via its online form.
- Scam adverts. These can currently be reported to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) through its online form. But as the new Online Safety Bill will include online scam ads, it means regulators, such as Ofcom, will have to work proactively with social media platforms and search engines to take them down. In the meantime, you should report any scam ads to the ASA.