With council tax bills now landing on doormats, Citizens Advice Oxford and Oxford City Council are warning Oxford residents against council tax scams.
A client of Citizens Advice Oxford was defrauded out of £850 this week when she received a WhatsApp message claiming to be from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). This claimed that she owed £1,600 in council tax and would be named and shamed in the newspapers and probably sent to jail if she didn’t pay up.
Although she is in receipt of council tax reduction the woman was scared by the message and arranged a bank transfer payment of £850. The fraudster claimed she would be refunded by HMRC.
Oxford City Council collects council tax, not HMRC. The council does not contact people by WhatsApp about their council tax.
Scammers may contact people by phone, text and email posing as staff from the council or from a government agency in order to defraud them. They may also use fake social media accounts and websites that look like genuine sites such as the government website GOV.UK.
Citizens Advice Oxford and Oxford City Council say that residents should end a call and delete texts, messages or emails if they are contacted about their council tax by anyone other than the council.
Most importantly, they should not make payments or give out personal information like bank account or debit card details unless they are certain they are speaking to the council.
The council does ask for information from residents to administer their council tax accounts, including refunds or arranging arrears collection. Residents who want to verify genuine contact from the council should call 01865 249811 or email firstname.lastname@example.org – all council email addresses end with @oxford.gov.uk.
“Oxford City Council is responsible for collecting council tax and if you are contacted on WhatsApp about your council tax or by someone claiming to be from HMRC it’s a scam. If you’re not sure that a call, text or email is genuine, please check with us before giving out personal information or making any payment.”
Councillor Nigel Chapman, cabinet member for safer communities and customer focused services
“Be suspicious if you are contacted out of the blue, even if it’s from a name or agency you recognise. You should never give out personal or bank account details or make a bank transfer unless you are certain who you are speaking to. One way to check is to hang up, wait five minutes for the line to clear, then call them back. And if you have been scammed, don’t suffer in silence – report it to the Citizens Advice Consumer helpline or Action Fraud.”
Al Bell, director of Citizens Advice Oxford
The Citizens Advice Consumer helpline number is 0808 223 1133. The helpline is open from 9am to 5pm on weekdays and calls are free from landlines and mobiles. Textphone users should dial 18001 0808 223 1133.
The Action Fraud helpline is 0300 123 2040, which is open between 8am and 8pm on weekdays. Textphone users should dial 0300 123 2050.
There is more information about common scams on the GOV.UK website.