TV License and Vehicle Tax Fraud: New Year, Same Old Scams

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Over the last week we’ve been tracking several emails impersonating UK services such as “TV Licensing” and “Vehicle Road Tax”. While the volumes seen have been a lot lower than other scams we’ve investigated, the lures used by these scams are all too real.

TV License Payment Update Scam

The TV License payment update scam has already hit the media with people reporting losses of up to £10,000. While a lot of scams are high volume, low quality scams, this campaign appears to be low volume but much higher in quality. It starts with a simple yet effective email:

Example of TV license scam email

Figure 1: Example of TV License scam email

The victim is prompted to follow the link to a cloned version of the legitimate TV License website, hosting a realistic personal information-harvesting page. While this page looks genuine, the website address looks very suspect – though the attacker has attempted to legitimize it by creating a subdomain using the real website. This shows that if this domain was compromised, the DNS management account had also been compromised – giving the attacker the ability to create new subdomains to mimic that of the cloned website.

 email scams figure 2

Figure 2: Personal information-harvesting page hosted on subdomain located on genuine TV Licensing website

The information collected – which includes dates of birth, phone numbers and mother’s maiden name – would provide an attacker enough information to get through some security questions for various services. This information alone can be sold or used to launch more advanced phishing campaigns.

To make matters worse, the following information harvesting page asks victims to enter their payment details, including both payment card information and bank account numbers.

example of payment details-harvesting page

Figure 3: Payment details-harvesting page

Once the details are all collected, they are likely sent via email to an email account controlled by the attacker, where the details organized and processed accordingly.

UK Vehicle Tax Scam

The UK vehicle tax email is not as clean but still has a legitimate sounding lure, with a clear sense of urgency.

email threats figure 4

Figure 4: Vehicle Road Tax lure threatening large fines if email is not responded to

The email contains a link to yet another cloned site using the same techniques as the UK TV License fraud. The form will first request a real vehicle’s registration. Why would a scam ask for that information? While this information could be useful, it may also serve to provide more validity to the attempt.

email scams figure 5

email scams figure 5.1

Figure 5: Cloned page requests victim enter vehicle registration details

Once again, we are prompted with a similar request for information, and a single page is used to harvest both personal information and payment information.

email scams figure 6

email scams figure 6.1

Figure 6: Malicious payment and personal information harvesting form


Similar Tactics, Different Perpetrators?

While both scams have similarities, there are subtleties that suggest there are separate attackers running these campaigns. For example, the TV License email was cleaner; however, it did spoof the victim email, which would reduce the likelihood of successful delivery. These emails were also seen being sent through misconfigured SMTP servers, using open relays to deliver them. The vehicle tax scam, on the other hand, appeared to use randomly generated or compromised email accounts.

Both TV License and vehicle tax scams used a similar subdomain trick to add some additional credibility, suggesting the domains were either owned by the attackers or at least fully under their control.

While these services are UK-specific, some of the target email addresses seen were from various top-level domains (TLD), including .nl TLDs, indicating that there was no country specific targeting.


Detecting Scams

As always with these scams, the same advice remains true:

  • Look for indicators in the email: who sent it, who else was it sent to, and are any grammatical errors?
  • Consider if the format of the email looks suspicious
  • Ask if the service provider is likely to email you rather than postal or phone communications
  • Never follow a link from an unexpected email. Instead, always go to the site directly or, if in doubt, make a phone call


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