Returning from holiday, Laura Henshaw panicked when she found a letter on her doormat asking for £1,480.
The 28-year-old nurse from Wandsworth, London, also found debt collection notices – but there was no explanation as to why she owed the money.
Struggling to reach the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on the phone, she began to worry.
“The letters didn’t explain why I owed the money – and I was freaking out because I had no idea what they were for,” Laura said.
After calling the debt collection agency (who had been given her details by the DWP) for answers, she was told that the money she supposedly owed was related to a Universal Credit application.
But it came as a total shock to Laura, who had never applied for Universal Credit or other benefits before.
The debt collectors even approached her employer to deduct the amount owed from her salary – but luckily she had recently quit her job so that her salary would not be blocked.
“Having this weigh down on me was incredibly stressful,” Laura said.
“I watch my finances well and was extremely worried about how this might affect my credit rating.”
Laura suspected she had been the victim of fraud and contacted The Sun’s Squeeze team to help shed light on this mysterious bill.
She saw that we had solved a similar case for another reader, who also received a mysterious Universal Credit bill for £1,250 in the post.
It turned out that scammers had stolen his identity to make a claim under his name.
After The Sun asked the DWP to investigate, it discovered that a fraudulent claim for Universal Credit had been made under Laura’s name.
Crooks had applied for the benefit and then applied for a Universal Credit prepayment.
This is when you can apply for an emergency loan to help you get through the five-week wait before your first Universal Credit payment.
The DWP paid out £1,480 in prepayment loans to the scammers, who pocketed the money and never repaid it.
However, the DWP has confirmed to The Sun that Laura’s debt will be cleared.
“We have confirmed that Laura’s case is a case of impersonation and have written to advise her that she will not be repaying any debt associated with this.”
The spokesperson also confirmed that Laura will not have any marks on her credit report.
It comes as the DWP launched a £613million plan in May to end the billions of pounds lost to benefit errors and fraud.
A new team of 2,000 people has been hired to comb through more than two million Universal Credit applications that may be incorrect or suspicious.
This means the DWP can execute warrants, search and seize evidence, and even make arrests while tracking down these claims.
What to do if you think you have been the victim of fraud
If you think you’ve been scammed like Laura, the first point of call is to contact the DWP.
There is a specific helpline you should call if you receive a letter like this: 0800 916 0647.
Make sure you have proof that you didn’t apply yourself.
In the event of fraud, immediately call your bank on the number on the back of the card.
Tell Action Fraud, report it online or by calling 0300 123 2040 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm).
He will inform the police and give you a crime reference number.
We also explain why your Universal Credit payments might be reduced.
A new tool has been launched that shows you how to get benefits, including Universal Credit.