Cybercrime alert: Council tax and fake debt collection scams uncovered

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The national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre, Action Fraud, has received a surge of reports from concerned members of the public who have received emails from bogus debt collectors and even scammers purporting to be the local council this week.

The fraudsters masquerading as the local council have used a realistic-looking domain name to send emails to householders asking them to sign up to a new service which makes it easier to pay council tax bills online.

The council tax email scam echos a telephone scam from last year that sought to convince householders that they were owed a rebate due to being in the wrong council tax bracket. The scammers then asked victims for an administration fee of up to £350.

Another phishing scam reported this week claims to act on behalf of a legitimate company called Optex (Europe) Ltd. The emails are addressed to the correct name, and contain other personal information - such as home addresses and postcodes.

Following the link on the computer could infect your machine with CryptoLocker ransomware.

This particularly nasty program demands payment from users under threat of permanently deleting personal files and data.

“Infected users have a time limit to send the payment. If this time elapses, the private key is destroyed, and your personal files may be lost forever. The NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) says you should never send the payment of a ransom to criminals as there is no guarantee that they would honour the payments in any event,” read an Action Fraud statement.

If you are concerned about a suspicious email or phone call, go with your gut. Don’t give out any personal information and contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.