How to protect your family from the cost-of-living scammers - Sarah Coles

There’s nothing in life that’s so bad that the scammers can’t capitalise on it and make it even worse.

There’s nothing in life that’s so bad that the scammers can’t capitalise on it and make it even worse, says Sarah Coles
There’s nothing in life that’s so bad that the scammers can’t capitalise on it and make it even worse, says Sarah Coles

They’ve lived down to everyone’s expectations over the past few months, by cashing in on the cost-of-living crisis and ripping people off when they’re at their most vulnerable.

It’s worth being aware of just what these criminals are up to, in order to protect yourself against them, and there are five cost-of-living scams doing the rounds at the moment to get to grips with.

1. Cost-of-living payment scams

Citizens Advice says that 41 per cent of people have been contacted by a scammer claiming to be from the government or the taxman – making it the second most common type of scam right now.

The Department for Work and Pensions has issued a warning about one version of this scam that’s designed to take advantage of the fact that the first cost-of-living payments have been paid out recently, and that more are on the way. The criminals send emails which claim to come from the DWP, and include a phone number that people are encouraged to ring for more information.

The scammers taking those calls then convince people to hand over their personal details, so their cash can be stolen. The DWP has emphasised that these payments will be made automatically – you don’t need to confirm any details or to apply. They add that they’d never text or email and ask for personal details in any case.

Other versions of this scam are less sophisticated but can be equally dangerous. They send emails claiming to be from Ofgem, saying that the government has decided to pick people at random to receive extra lump sum payments, and claiming you’ve been chosen. You’re then asked for your personal details, which are used to steal your cash.

2. Council tax rebate scams

Fraudsters are also trying to exploit the council tax rebate of £150, which was paid to everyone in bands A-D. In most cases these were paid automatically, but in some cases councils are getting in touch with people in order to get hold of their details. This has opened the door for the scammers. Not all councils are tackling this in the same way, so fraudsters are cashing in on the confusion and sending emails, texting and phoning pretending to be from the council and asking for personal information.

If you’re in this position, check on your council’s website for the approach they’re taking. If they’re going to ask you to complete an online form, they may send you a letter with a secure code on it, so you know you’re dealing with the council. Otherwise, they may send a Post Office voucher or a cheque, or they may just apply it as a council tax discount.

3. Energy payment scams

Other scammers are trying to cash in on the £400 energy bill payment being made in instalments from October. They’re sending texts claiming to be from Ofgem, and saying you need to send your details in order to receive the money. They persuade you to click on a link and add your financial information, which they then use to rip you off.

In reality, you don’t need to do anything to receive this money, which will be paid direct to your energy account.

4. Energy bill rebate scams

Another scam to watch for is a text or email pretending to be from your energy company, saying you’re due a refund. There are a number of these refund and rebate scams, and Citizens Advice says 28 per cent of people tave been targeted by at least one version of them.

The scammers are exploiting the fact that so many of us have seen impossible hikes in our direct debits that we’re bound to hope we’ve been overcharged and that a refund is on the way.

Unfortunately, if you respond, they’ll ask for your personal details, and access your money.

5. Get-rich-quick scams

There are other scams that take advantage of the fact that money is so tight at the moment that people are on the lookout for extra cash. Citizens Advice says get-rich-quick schemes are the third most common kind of scam – seen by 29 per cent of people this year.

One that’s doing the rounds at the moment is a social media scam, which claims to offer people a way to get a refund from their bank. If you fall for the scam, they will ask for your details.

They’ll then use them to set themselves up on your account, and dispute a transaction, so they get a refund into their account. The only people getting a refund from the bank are the scammers – and it’s your money they’re getting.

The best way to protect yourself is to assume any contact you’re not expecting – even if it seems to be from a company you recognise – is a scam until it’s proven otherwise.

You shouldn’t click on any links, or send any data. If you’re called in person, you shouldn’t give them any personal information either.

The best approach is to contact the organisation they claim to be from, using contact details you already have from elsewhere, and check whether the email, phone call or text is legitimate. It will take you a few minutes, but if it protects you from a scammer, it’s worth every second.