SCAM ALERT - watch out for Universal Credit scammers
12 July 2019
According to the BBC News, benefit claimants are being targeted by scammers promising a low-cost loan or even a grant from the government.
What they don’t tell you is that the money you’ll receive is actually an advance for Universal Credit. After the fraudsters have taken their cut of your advance, victims are left to pay back the total amount after their Universal Credit payments begin. One scammer took £1,000 as their “fee” from a payment of £1,525.
According to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), 10% of new Universal Credit claims could be fraudulent. Victims have included vulnerable people such as those who are out of work, homeless or have drug dependency issues.
How to spot a Universal Credit scammer
Victims described being approached by someone who says they work for Jobcentre Plus. They could be smartly dressed and even have a badge or ID to “prove” they are acting on behalf of the Jobcentre. They promised one victim she’d receive a grant from the government that didn’t need to be paid back.
To apply for a Universal Credit advance on your behalf, they will ask for ID such as your driving licence or passport, your bank card or details of your accounts and could even ask to take a photo of you.
One victim reported that the first sign that she had been scammed was when her tax credits were stopped. When she called up to ask about it, she was told she couldn’t claim tax credits and Universal Credit at the same time. Repayments started to be taken from her benefits as soon as her UC payments started.
Watch out online
A BBC report details how victims are being targeted through social media (Opens in a new window) accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat as well. They’re operating under handles such as Same Day Drop UK, Same Day Grant Payment, Discretionary Budgeting Grant, moneyinaminute and Gov Grants Same Day.
These fake pages are very convincing, using government logos to try and seem more trustworthy. One victim described how she was lured in by comments from other users who had supposedly received this “grant”. It’s easy for scammers to use fake accounts to comment with testimonials, and delete any replies that say it’s a scam.
You can now only apply for a Universal Credit advance online if you have made a claim within the past five weeks, are waiting for your first payment and have already had an interview at your Jobcentre.
If you apply for an advance by speaking to your work coach or calling the Universal Credit helpline, you (and your partner if you are claiming jointly) will need to:
- explain why you need an advance
- provide bank account details where the advance should be paid
- have had your identity checked at a Jobcentre.
The problems it could cause
Advances for Universal Credit need to be paid back in 12 monthly installments after you get your first UC payment. It definitely isn’t the “free money” scammers might make it out to be.
Jobcentre Plus staff have reported seeing bogus claims, including some from university students who wouldn’t usually be eligible for Universal Credit, as well as applications including children who don’t exist. If a scammer makes a UC advance application on your behalf using false information, this is classed as benefit fraud.
Those found out to be committing benefit fraud could:
- be told to pay back the overpaid money
- may be taken to court or asked to pay a penalty (between £350 and £5,000)
- their benefits may be reduced or stopped.
How to report a Universal Credit scam
Work and Pensions minister Baroness Buscombe says: "We’re encouraging people to listen to their instincts. If someone offers you a low-cost loan from the Government they may be trying to steal your identity.
"Treat your personal information for benefits in the same way you would for your bank. And if you think you’ve been targeted, we urge you to report it urgently."
Report any social media accounts you see promoting fake government grants using the report feature on Twitter (Opens in a new window), Facebook (Opens in a new window), Instagram (Opens in a new window) or Snapchat (Opens in a new window).
If you think you might have been a victim of a UC scam, whether you were approached or your details were used to apply for Universal Credit without your consent, you should report it. Get in touch with Action Fraud local police, Jobcentre Plus or report it to Citizens Advice. Scammers have already been prosecuted for committing this type of fraud. Your report could stop someone else falling victim in future.