TV licence fee scams have doubled in a year amid fears predatory fraudsters could target vulnerable over-75s when they are stripped of their free access.
City of London police, which leads the UK’s fight against financial crime, received 2458 reports of suspected scams related to the licence fee in the first seven months of this year alone, nearly double 2018’s figure of 1264.
Both figures dwarfed the 238 reports recorded in 2017, leading to warnings elderly people who are having to pay for their TV licences for the first time could be targeted by criminals exploiting their vulnerability.
The number of scams related to the licence fee received by City of London Police in 2017, 2018 and the first seven months of 2019, as revealed by MailOnline
In total, City of London Police recorded 3987 suspected scams in 2017, 2018 and January to July this year, according to a freedom of information request by MailOnline.
Age UK director Caroline Abrahams called the figures ‘really worrying’, and urged people to be vigilant.
‘Fraudsters are always on the look-out for new opportunities, so it’s highly likely we will see some sophisticated scams aimed at very old people,’ she said.
‘Millions of over-75s have not had to buy a TV licence for many years and we worry that they could be caught out by these messages.’
Have YOU been a victim of licence fee fraudsters?
Ms Abrahams urged the BBC and TV Licensing, which collects the fee, to clearly inform the public about when they would be contacted, what to look for, and whether it would be by letter or email.
‘Anyone can be scammed but the fact that many older people live alone and are physically or mentally unwell puts them at heightened risk of being targeted, so it’s crucial they are vigilant and that friends and family look out for them too,’ she said.
‘If there is any doubt about the authenticity of an offer or piece of correspondence, do not respond, do not click on links in unsolicited emails and report it straight away.’
The figures prompted warnings that elderly people having to pay for their TV licences for the first time could be targeted by criminals exploiting their vulnerability
Previous scams have used fake emails to steal personal details.
How 20% of over-75s struggle to dress and 627,000 have dementia
More than a quarter (29%) of over-75s in the UK have difficulty with at least one activity of daily living, according to recently-uncovered data.
Other statistics revealed:
Around 20% of over-75s have difficulty dressing, and 16% bathing or showering.
Around 9% struggle to get in and out of bed and 7% have difficulty walking across a room.
Around 672,000 are living with dementia and a further 662,000 with ‘severe frailty’, it said.
Source: Age UK
They will use headlines such as ‘correct your licensing information’, ‘billing information updates’ and ‘renew now’ to trick people into clicking on the link within the email.
When a victim clicks on the link, they will be led to a convincing looking TV Licencing website.
The website is designed to harvest as much personal and financial information as possible from the victim.
Although all the emails are different in style, they all lead to the same website which is being hosted on different domains.
The emails claim that TV Licencing has been trying to contact customers regarding the payment of a bill or a change to their personal information.
The fraudulent website will prompt victims to add their payment details, including the Card Verification Value (CVV) code on the back of their card, account number and sort code.
Dame Helen Mirren (left, at a premiere in Las Vegas on April 2) and Dame Vera Lynn (right, in London in 2017) are among those who have called for the universal entitlement to be restored
Age UK has already warned the BBC about how difficult many over-75s will find the process of buying a TV licence.
Only those in this age group who also receive pension credit will continue to get a free TV licence from June next year, with the BBC saying it cannot afford to take on the financial burden from the Government.
Four ways to spot scams
TV Licensing, which collects licence fees, has revealed four tips to spot email scams. These are –
1. Check the sender’s email address: Scammers can’t use a genuine TV Licensing one, which end ‘@tvlicensing.co.uk’
2. Check how they address you: Genuine TV Licensing emails will always use your title and last name. Scammers may simply use your email address, or say ‘Dear Customer’ or nothing at all.
3. Check links in the email: Do not click on links or attachments. If you’re unsure, you can inspect links first by hovering over the link with your mouse and examining the pop up.
4. Check addresses of any websites it takes you to: Scammers can’t use ‘www.tvlicensing.co.uk’ for copy-cat sites. They’ll try to disguise this so carefully inspect the full address in the browser bar.
Campaigners said that many pensioners, including those who find it difficult to dress, bathe and get out of bed, will struggle with the procedure of paying or even confirming that they are entitled to a free TV licence.
The BBC was also blasted last months for its ‘deeply upsetting’ plan to send squads of TV licence fee ‘police’ to pensioners’ homes to demand they pay the annual £154.40 fee.
The move was called a ‘slow motion car crash’ which risked vulnerable elderly people ‘inexcusably getting hurt’, while a backlash on Twitter saw the new teams branded ‘BBC Stasi’.
Over-75s who fail to set up payment or prove they receive pension credit will be pursued for the money and could receive a ‘support visit’ by a new squad of staff, BBC director of policy Clare Sumner announced.
Outsourcing giant Capita will be employed to recruit the staff, MailOnline revealed, in a move that could spark controversy given its record of bungling major government contracts. It is already tasked with collecting the licence fee.
The free TV licence was introduced in 2000, but the BBC agreed to take on the cost as part of the charter agreement hammered out in 2015.
Dame Helen Mirren, Dame Vera Lynn, Sir Lenny Henry and Len Goodman have all called for the universal entitlement to be restored.
Have YOU been a victim of licence fee fraudsters? Contact email@example.com
Only over 75s who receive Pension Credit will be able to watch TV for free from June 2020. File image
Couple lost £9,900 to TV licence scammers after husband, 65, responded to a fake email asking for their bank details
A couple were left penniless after TV licence scammers emptied their bank accounts in a ‘particularly nasty’ case of fraud.
Jerry Tack, 65, and his wife Carole, 61, had £4,000 stolen from two separate saving accounts, as well as £1,900 from his current account.
The couple, from Hampshire, desperately tried to resolve the situation with their building society Nationwide only to be told they couldn’t do anything because Mr Tack had willingly given his details.
Jerry Tack, 65, and his wife Carole, 61 (pictured together), of Hampshire had £4,000 stolen from two separate saving accounts, as well as £1,900 from his current account
Mrs Tack told the BBC in January: ‘We were left penniless until the end of November.
‘Hubby and me fell out big time over it. I didn’t speak to him for about a week.
‘Christmas for us was a complete wash-out. I didn’t even put any decorations up – we didn’t feel like it.’
In the Tacks’ case, Jerry thought he was just renewing his TV licence and filled in an online form with some of his details.
Two days later a phone call came from someone pretending be his building society.
The scammers asked about two fake transactions and when he said he hadn’t authorised them the caller advised him to move his money into a ‘safe account’.
At this point he was sent a text message from the ‘building society’ with a code, triggering a password reset.
Mr Tack assumed the code had been sent by the person he spoke to on the phone and filled in his details.
The scammers then had full access to three accounts, taking every last penny.
When the couple realised what had happened they contacted Nationwide, who told them they had fallen victim to an ‘authorised push payment’ (APP) scam.
But because Mr Tack had willingly handed over the details, they have refused to reimburse them.
A spokesman said: ‘We’re very sorry that our member has been a victim of this cruel scam.
‘Unfortunately, despite warnings generated by our systems, the member gave away details to the fraudster and originated all of the transactions into the third-party account.’
A TV Licensing spokesman said: ‘TV Licensing will never email customers, unprompted, to ask for bank details, personal information or tell you that you may be entitled to a refund.’