Researchers from the think tank Parliament Street have uncovered a text message scam offering a ‘Free TV License.’

Coinciding with the BBC’s controversial decision to axe the universal free TV license for over-75s, the fraud is designed to steal the personal financial data of victims.

According to the Parliament Street researchers, hundreds of UK consumers have already been targeted by the scam which begins with a text message sent to the receiver’s phone that reads: “Due to COVID-19 we are able to provide one year free of charge TV License service upon application.” The message then prompts the user to visit a fraudulent website that uses official TV license branding.

From there, victims are asked to enter various pieces of personal information including name, date of birth, home address and banking details, which are then stolen.

“This SMS-based phishing attack, otherwise known as a smishing attack, is yet another case of opportunistic cyber-criminals looking to take advantage of unknowing victims during COVID-19,” said cyber-expert Andy Heather, VP, Centrify. “The BBC license fee has been the source of ongoing debate in recent times, and this smishing campaign holds a veneer of legitimacy, just enough to trick some unsuspecting victims into giving away their payment details.”

What’s more, he added, the psychology behind receiving an SMS message is a lot different when compared to receiving an email. “The former is generally considered to be a lot more personable, and thus a smishing attack may catch many individuals off-guard.”

Tim Sadler, CEO at Tessian, commented: “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen a spike in phishing attacks whereby hackers impersonate trusted organizations and government agencies, preying on people’s vulnerabilities during these stressful times. In this particular case, hackers are taking advantage of the fact that people are struggling financially in the wake of the pandemic, offering a free TV license, to steal valuable information.”

Sadler explained that awareness of such scams is the first step in defending against them. “Look out for any use of ungrammatical language in the text and if the offer seems too good to be true, then do not click on any links. Visit the official TV licensee website to verify if the offer is real.”