TV Licence SMS scam sweeps the UK

Consumer warning as ‘Free one-year TV Licence’ SMS scam targets elederly people in an effort to steal data

by Patrick Sullivan, Political Editor on 3 August 2020 16:08

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Hundreds of UK consumers have been targeted with a sophisticated text message scam offering a ‘Free TV Licence’ for a whole year. The fraud, exposed by the Parliament Street think tank’s cyber research team, is designed to steal the personal financial data of victims.

The timing of the new scam coincides with the BBC’s decision to axe the universal free TV licence for over-75s has been axed in a controversial move.

The scam begins with a text message sent to the victim’s phone which reads: “Due to COVID-19 we are able to provide one year free of charge TV Licence service upon application, please visit http://tvlicences-id71839402[DOT]info/apply/”

The recipient is then directed to a fraudulent website, which uses official TV Licence branding, including a special alert repeated the offer of the free one-year deal.

The fake offer is likely to prove irresistible to weary consumers, with an annual licence costing a hefty £157.50 per year for both homes and businesses.

Visitors to the fraudulent site are first asked to enter their total title, name and date of birth. After this, they are asked to enter their home address, postcode, followed by bank account number, SORT code and credit or debit card details, including the security number. Parliament Street’s research team has already identified at least 100 reports of the scam in circulation in places such as Kent, Brighton and Bournemouth.

Last month, several police forces across the country issued formal warnings to consumers over a similar scam which targeted consumers with a warning that their TV Licence direct debit had failed. The scam included an offer of a 6-month free licence offer.

Cyber expert, Andy Heather, VP, Centrify told The Commentator: “This SMS-based phishing attack, otherwise known as a smishing attack, is yet another case of opportunistic cyber criminals looking to take advantage of unknowing victims during Covid-19. The BBC license fee has been the source of ongoing debate in recent times, and this smishing campaign holds a veneer of legitimacy, just enough to trick some unsuspecting victims into giving away their payment details.

Heather continued, “What’s more, the psychology behind receiving an SMS message is a lot different when compared to receiving an email; the former is generally considered to be a lot more personable, and thus a smishing attack may catch many individuals off-guard. “Moving forward, UK consumers must understand that the cyber threatscape of today has changed, and they can feasibly be targeted by a cyber scam via any messaging system or communication channel, and combatting this issue requires education, online vigilance and strong password security practice. When it comes to employees and businesses, who will also be targeted by scams of this nature, it’s important that they adopt an identity centric Privileged Access Management solution, so that every user is authenticated, and a breached password does not necessarily equate to a breach of data.”

Tim Sadler, CEO at Tessian added: "Smishing - phishing via an SMS message - is a particularly effective method of attack for cybercriminals. Hackers can easily send SMS messages to millions of phone numbers, impersonating a trusted government agency, to trick people into sharing personal or financial details. Unlike email, there isn't a way to warn someone that the text message they've received is suspicious and the other problem is that, once someone clicks on the link, they are taken to a page that looks legitimate, especially when you're looking at it on a small phone screen.

Sadler continued, "Throughout the pandemic, we've seen a spike in phishing attacks whereby hackers impersonate trusted organisations and government agencies, preying on people's vulnerabilities during these stressful times. In this particular case, hackers are taking advantage of the fact that people are struggling financially in the wake of the pandemic, offering a free TV licence, to steal valuable information.

"Awareness of these scams is the first step. Look out for any use of ungrammatical language in the text and if the offer seems too good to be true, then do not click on any links. Visit the official TV licence website to verify if the offer is real."

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