Veteran motorist Jean Cunningham thought she was on to an unexpected windfall when she received an email out of the blue to tell her a refund of her car road fund tax was due.
The 68-year-old Gosport pensioner sold her 2014 Ford Fiesta to a private buyer in July, so she didn’t believe anything was amiss when an email claiming to come from the Driver Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA) said they owed her £239.35.
But the normally online security savvy former insurance clerk turned carer was within a whisker of being scammed out of thousands of pounds until Streetwise got involved.
The criminals behind the email had taken the deception to the next level by including a link of how to report scamming inside their hoax email.
It was so sophisticated and convincing that she was persuaded to drop her guard and disclose her bank sort code and account number.
Jean explained that since she lost her husband to cancer just two years ago, a car had been her lifeline, enabling her to visit family and friends in Waterlooville and Devon.
She decided she could afford a larger more comfortable car for the longer journeys so moving up-market became essential.
‘At first I explored selling my as-new low-mileage car through local Ford dealers,’ she said, ‘but one of my sons suggested I advertised it privately and on the internet to get the best price for it.’
‘It was quickly snapped up by a buyer in Portsmouth so when his cheque cleared through the bank I was rather pleased with myself.
‘There’s no suggestion that the buyer had anything to do with what happened, but at the beginning of August I got the unexpected email from the DVLA telling me I was due a refund of car tax as it can’t be carried over to the new owner.
‘It all looked very innocuous and convincing and nobody would have believed it was an audacious copycat of the DVLA official website.’
Jean’s guard was down because it included the DVLA’s existing logos and typeface fonts. It was cleverly designed to dupe unsuspecting motorists into sharing their personal banking data.
She added: ‘What tipped the scales and convinced me it was perfectly genuine was another link on the site warning people about online DVLA scammers and instructing them how to report it.
‘The email said that they were notifying me of the outstanding tax refund, and to click on a link to a secure web claim form.’
The brazen anti-scam note said if she was suspicious any email wasn’t from the DVLA then to forward it to ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.
It went on to urge her to complete the secure online web application which promised that the refund would appear in her RBS bank account within four to six days.
But little did Jean know that by a stroke of luck she was destined to avoid being taken to the cleaners.
She didn’t complete the application until a week or so later when she got around to it. Quite by chance she mentioned it to her son Liam when he phoned her an hour or so later for a chat about the family’s bank holiday plans.
He instantly smelled a rat and advised her to phone Streetwise to confirm if the website was genuine.
We advised her it was phoney and she’d been understandably taken in by a very convincing scam. We urged her to get on to the RBS 24/7 security line and report the incident to her bank immediately.
In the meantime we sent RBS an instant scam email alert to tell them Jean was about to request a block on all her accounts.
An appreciative Jean said: ‘The bank immediately got on the case and although the thieves had already tried to withdraw an initial £1,500 from my current account it was countermanded in the nick of time.
‘It was your prompt action that saved me from my own stupid mistake, but lady luck was definitely on my side.
‘I appreciate I’d been very silly but never for one moment did I believe I was susceptible to online fraud. It only goes to show how wrong I was and how clever and convincing the rogues turned out to be.
‘Had Liam not phoned when he did I’ve not the slightest doubt my bank balance would have taken a significant hit. I really can’t thank you enough for your prompt action and advice.’
It’s not the first time Streetwise had been alerted to scammers targeting readers by impersonating the DVLA.
They told us they hadn’t fallen for the ruse because the emails were a dead giveaway just crudely asking to confirm their direct debit details. Streetwise referred them to the police fraud reporting website ‘Action Fraud’.
In the meantime the DVLA had stepped up its warning to motorists it would never contact them about direct debits, and to resist any temptation to open attachments which were likely to contain tracking bugs designed to steal sensitive personal information from their computers.
A spokesperson said: ‘The DVLA will never send links to third party sites or ask for confirmation of personal details or payment information – red flags that should warn drivers before they fall for the scam and submit their own data.’