We’ve said it before and, sadly, we’re having to say it again: some of the biggest dangers motorists must confront are nothing to do with driving; it feels like a new scam surfaces every week, so we thought we should round up some of the latest so you know what to look out for – and how to avoid them!
The new Mersey Gateway, a six-lane bridge spanning the river Mersey between Runcorn and Widnes, has attracted the attention of scammers before it has even been opened. Tolls for the new bridge, scheduled to open to the general public in the autumn of 2017, are being collected by Merseyflow but the official operator is already warning that a fake website and telephone number have been set up to try and lure unwary motorists into handing over their personal details.
Anthony Alicastro, chief executive of Merseyflow, said the firm "Will take whatever action we can to shut them down," adding: "We'd hate anyone to fall victim to these criminals."
How to combat it
Even though more than 17,000 vehicles having registered for discounted crossings already (and Blue Badge holders can cross for free), a last-minute rush is predicted, so you’d be well-advised to log onto the official website here ASAP!
Not a scam, but the nearby Silver Jubilee Bridge will become a fee-paying toll bridge when the Mersey Gateway opens. The operators say this is necessary to prevent it becoming clogged with traffic as drivers divert over it to avoid having to pay the toll on the Mersey Gateway.
However, the changes won’t come into play immediately as the Silver Jubilee Bridge will be closed at the end of 2017 to be redesigned and updated. The aim is to make it more user friendly for local traffic and public transport and to provide dedicated space for cyclists and pedestrians to use it in safety.
The London Congestion Charge
As the largest scheme of its type in the UK, it was inevitable that the London Congestion Charge would attract the attention of the scammers. The official Transport for London (TfL) website lists a number of different scams, all of which charge more than the official payment portal.
Here are just some of them:
- Some websites offer to act as a third-party agent to take payment for the Congestion Charge. They all charge more than the official rate of £11.50 a day, claiming that the excess is justified as an ‘admin fee’ – but some of them will take your money and run, leaving you both out-of-pocket and with a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) for non-payment.
- Other websites will continue to take the daily payment, even for days you aren’t travelling within the Congestion Charge zone. Needless to say, getting a refund – or even cancelling the recurring payments – is likely to prove difficult.
- Other websites will process any fines you’ve incurred, and while some of them will actually do just that, even the semi-legitimate ones will charge you a processing fee, which the TfL site doesn’t…
- Premium rate telephone numbers are another avenue that the unscrupulous exploit to bleed you dry. The legitimate TFL telephone number is 0343 222 2222, and calls to it cost between 2p and 10p per minute from a landline if your service provider doesn’t include it in your free calls allowance, while a call from a mobile will usually cost between 10p and 40p per minute. Rates to third-party operators are likely to be considerably higher than this.
- Other scammers use out-and-out scare tactics, claiming that TfL doesn’t keep your data safe or use 3DSecure payment processing. Neither claim is true, and using the Transport for London website is completely safe and your information will be as secure there as anywhere.
How to combat it
While acting as a third-party agent isn’t necessarily illegal, our advice, as ever, is to only use the official website and/or telephone number to pay the Congestion Charge or any penalty notices they may have incurred.
Websites that offer to make things easier for you rarely deliver on their promise and they will always charge you more than going through the official channels.
The Dartford Crossing
A number of fake emails have been sent out to drivers that, at first glance, look legitimate. The emails claim that the attachment at the bottom is a receipt, which tempts the recipient to click on it to see what all the fuss is about. However, rather than showing a receipt, opening the attachment unleashes a hidden virus on the user’s computer.
This scam uses a technique called ‘spoofing’, a deceptively simple technique in which the scammer sets up a bogus website with a domain name that mimics that of the genuine company, in this case Dart Charge, the official payment service for the Dartford Crossing.
The email address used in the 2015 scam ended in “@dart-charge.co.uk”, while the legitimate one ends in “dartford-crossing-charge.service.gov.uk”. While the differences are obvious when you know what to look for, they’re similar enough to look genuine to the casual observer.
How to combat it
The way to combat this scam is to do your own independent research (as the saying goes: Google is your friend!) and then click through to the official, legitimate website from there.
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Beware though; some scammers and criminals are so adept at optimizing their websites that their spoof ones will sometimes appear higher up on the search results than the genuine ones…