Sharp rise in energy scams as household bills soar in Britain

Fraudsters are using the cost of living crisis to expand their scams, with a surge in energy schemes that exploit Britons’ desire to save money on electricity and gas bills, according to analysis of official data.

Cons mentioning the names of the UK’s biggest energy companies rose 10% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2022, consumer group Which? said in its assessment of the Action Fraud figures.

In January, the annual jump was 27%. As energy bills soar, which ones? said the true figure was likely higher, noting that many scam attempts go unreported.

Scammers target consumers with “phishing” attempts designed to harvest their personal information, including bank details, which can then be used to carry out more sophisticated frauds.

UK Finance, the banking trade body, said data breaches and phishing attempts contributed to £784 million in bank fraud losses in 2020, the latest year for which data is available.

One of the most common methods Which? saw are emails from scammers posing as energy suppliers asking customers to request a refund due to a “calculation error” on their energy bill.

The emails look like real communications from energy providers because the scammers “spoof” the display name of the email so that it appears to come from an official address. To benefit from the discount, customers are asked to click on a link and enter their bank details.

Other phishing scams in circulation relate to the government’s £15billion energy aid package.

Earlier this month, Ofgem wrote to all energy suppliers urging them to warn customers about fake texts and WhatsApp messages claiming to be from the energy regulator.

The fake messages said: ‘You are eligible for the government funded £400 energy rebate’, prompting customers to click on a fake link to ‘complete your application’. In fact, this discount will be automatically applied to customer invoices from October.

Who? said the collapse of dozens of energy companies had created an atmosphere of confusion around unpaid bills, with scammers posing as debt collection companies in a bid to extort money from former customers.

The consumer group saw “sophisticated” emails received from customers, including their full names and knowledge of their former supplier, adding that they were particularly concerned that customer data could have been ” mishandled or stolen” when businesses close.

Action Fraud, the national fraud and cybercrime reporting center, also warned of a scam where criminals clone prepaid meter tokens and resell them at discounted prices. He warned that in reality, customers would end up paying twice for their energy consumption, once their legitimate supplier established what was happening.

“We advise all consumers to be wary of unsolicited emails, text messages or letters, especially those not addressed to you by name which may request sensitive information or ask you to make a bank transfer,” he said. said Jenny Ross, Which? money editor.

An easy way to verify the origin of emails claiming to be from an energy supplier is to click on the sender’s name to view the source email address. Consumers can then check their provider’s official domain name on the company’s official website. Who? also warns that consumers legitimate supplier will never ask for bank details because they have them on file.

“If in doubt, contact your energy provider directly using their website contact information,” Ross added.

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