Many common scams today have been around for years. The council tax refund is a prime example, tricking people into handing over personal details by luring them with significant sums of money.

In this respect, it’s no different to the income tax rebate scam, and the fact that the scam also uses government logos and branding makes it even more similar.

Over the past few weeks various local councils including Exeter, Barrow and Carmarthenshire have warned residents about a very convincing-looking email which uses branding to tell them about a reduction in council tax, which it implies is due to COVID-19 and the fact that they are on benefits or have a low income, and invites them to claim a refund.

Like all good scams, a link in the email directs people to a website that looks like an official government site, but is of course owned by the scammers. To get the refund, you have to enter your name, address and bank details for the money to be paid.

Since some councils really do operate in this way, asking you to fill in such information on a web form, it is easy to be deceived and hand over the information to the bad guys.

They might then use it to steal your identity, to empty your bank account or for other illegitimate purposes.

Action Fraud received 640 reports of this email within two days, and there are likely thousands - if not tens of thousands - of people receiving it.

How to avoid the council tax refund scam

It’s easy to fall for this type of scam, but there are some things you can do to prevent it happening to you.

  1. All communications should have your local council branding - not the UK government.
  2. Instead of clicking on a link in an email, get in touch with your local council and verify if the email is genuine and whether you are really due a refund or not.
  3. Run security software or a web browser extension which can warn you when you’re about to visit a dangerous website.
  4. Report the email to Action Fraud or by emailing [email protected]

There are lots of free browser extensions, so staying safe online doesn’t have to cost money. Here are some you can install today:

McAfee's Raj Samani also warns that clicking on phishing links can also result in malware being downloaded onto your device, which can then track and take personal information when you buy online. It's a very good idea to run up to date security software for this reason.

You can read more advice on phishing scams and about the most common scams to avoid.