LAURA Henshaw was shocked when she arrived home from a trip abroad to letters from the DWP demanding she cough up £1,480.
The 28-year-old nurse from Wandsworth, London, also received debt collection notices – but was given no explanation for why she owed the money.
Struggling to get through to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on the phone, she started to panic over the colossal bill.
“The letters didn't explain the reason why I owed the money – and I was panicking as I had no idea what they were for," said Laura.
After ringing up the debt collection agency (which had been passed her details by the DWP) to get answers, she was told that the money she supposedly owed was linked to a Universal Credit claim.
But this came as a total shock to Laura, who has never applied for Universal Credit or any other benefits before.
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Debt collectors even approached her employer to deduct the amount owed from her salary – but luckily she had recently left her job so her wages weren’t docked.
“Having this hanging over me was incredibly stressful,” Laura said.
“I keep on top of my finances well, and was extremely worried about how this could affect my credit score.”
Laura got in touch with The Sun’s Squeeze Team to help her get to the bottom of this mystery bill.
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After The Sun asked the DWP to investigate, it found that a fraudulent claim for Universal Credit had been made under Laura’s name.
Crooks had applied for the benefit and then requested a Universal Credit advance payment.
This is when you can apply for an emergency loan to help you get through the five week wait for your first Universal Credit payment.
The DWP paid out £1,480 in advance payment loans to the scammers, who pocketed the cash and never paid it back.
However, the DWP confirmed to The Sun that Laura’s debt would be wiped clean.
“We have confirmed that Laura’s case is one of identity fraud and have written to inform her that she will not repay any debt associated with this.”
The spokesperson also confirmed Laura will not have any marks on her credit file.
It comes as the DWP launched a £613million plan in May to put an end to the billions of pounds being lost in benefit mistakes and fraud.
A new team of 2,000 staff has been hired to comb through more than two million Universal Credit claims that could be incorrect or are suspicious.
It 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've been a victim of fraud
If you think you've been scammed like Laura, the first point of call is to contact the DWP.
There's a specific helpline you should call if you receive a letter like this which is: 0800 916 0647.
Make sure you have evidence to hand that shows you did not make the claim yourself.
For cases of fraud, call your bank immediately using the number on the back of the card.
Tell Action Fraud, report it online or by calling 0300 123 2040 (Monday to Friday, 8am-8pm).
It will tell the police and give you a crime reference number.
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