A recent letter received from a company called Northgate looked just like a phishing scam.
The letter claims Northgate is acting on behalf of Lewes District Council to review the Council Tax discount given to single occupiers.
Is It Genuine?
Yes. Lewes District Council has confirmed that they did engage Northgate to carry out this check.
So, anyone receiving this letter does need to respond by telephone, post or the website detailed within the letter.
Why Does it Cause Concern?
It causes concern because it looks very much like a phishing attempt, particularly given that Lewes District Council (LDC) failed to provide prior notification that recipients would be contacted by a third party.
- The police and consumer programmes regularly warn the public to look out for third parties posing as official bodies. Tell-tale signs of a fake “official” letter are the following – all of which are true of the Northgate letter:
- A website that is not the official website belonging to organisation (i.e. LDC) in question.
- A telephone number that cannot be verified in the public domain, i.e. is not published on the organisation’s website.
- An address that does not match the published address of the organisation.
- A “threatening tone” that tries to pressure the recipient into reacting quickly, i.e. the following appears in the letter in bold: “If you do not reply, we may cancel your discount from the date it was last checked”.
- An unsolicited request for personal data.
- Some people receiving this letter may assume it is a scam and bin it, not realising that it is in fact genuine. This may lead to them losing their discount. If anyone does lose their discount for that reason, I would suggest it will entirely be the fault of LDC.
- By commissioning this kind of letter LDC is potentially legitimising in people’s minds that letters from unknown third parties are genuine. This may lead them to become prey to a phishing attempt in future.
What Should Lewes District Council Do About It?
I have recommended that for anyone who has not responded to the Northgate letter within a reasonable timescale, LDC should send out a follow-up letter on council-headed notepaper and with verifiable contact details to advise residents that the Northgate letter was genuine.
It would be wise to include a copy of content of the Northgate letter in that communication for the benefit of anyone who discarded the original letter as a scam.