Warning on new council tax phone scam

Trading Standards Officers from The Highland Council are warning residents that a Council Tax scam may be operating in the region.

The scam involves unsuspecting consumers receiving a phone call from an individual pretending to be from the Council or from the UK Treasury and offering a refund on their Council Tax.  In one instance reported to Trading Standards, the caller stated the consumer had been selected because they have been in employment and paid income tax over a period of time and were entitled to a reward in the form of a Council Tax refund of between £5000 & £7000.

Next comes the “catch”.  The consumer is told that an upfront payment of £95 is required to process the refund.  The scammers then ask for the resident's bank details to collect a payment or issue the promised refund.  The caller also offers to arrange a visit to the resident’s home within the hour to collect the £95 in cash, if this is more convenient to the resident, and then send a cheque for the refund.

David MacKenzie, Trading Standards Team Leader at Highland Council said:  “This council tax scam is an example of an ‘advance fee fraud’.  Advance fee fraud is when fraudsters target victims to make advance payments for goods, services and/or financial gains that do not materialise.  Almost all of these scams rely on payment being made online or via money transfer companies.  This particular scam introduces a worrying new development in that there may be fraudsters on the ground in the Highland Council area able to travel to the consumer’s home to collect the money in person.”

Trading Standards have also reported this matter to the Police.  Inverness Area Commander, Chief Inspector Graeme Murdoch, said: “We share Trading Standards concern about the cash collection service offered by these individuals and would remind members of the public to remain vigilant against this type of crime.  I would reiterate the advice given by Trading Standards and urge people to contact their local police station if they feel they have been the victim of such a scam.”

David MacKenzie added: ”We urge Highland residents not to be conned by these scammers and to hang up the phone when they receive this sort of call.  Finally, if you are a carer for a vulnerable person please let them know about this scam.”

Council Tax payers are also reminded that the local authority may phone them to discuss tax issues, but not in the manner used by the scammers.  A spokesperson for Council Tax in Highland explained: “We also want people to be on their guard for this sort of scam but do remember that Highland Council staff may legitimately telephone residents to discuss council tax payments.  The key difference of course is when we phone we have some of the resident’s details to hand. If you have any doubt as to the authenticity of the call, please call the Council's free phone council tax helpline on 0800 393811.”

Concerned residents can contact The Highland Council’s  Trading Standards service at 38 Harbour Road, Inverness or telephone Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 for free and confidential advice regarding consumer issues. 

22 Aug 2011