Scam alert: Cost of living and energy
Cost of living and energy scam
As energy bills continue to soar, scammers are seizing their opportunity to exploit the cost-of-living crisis. In light of this, there has been a significant rise in the number of fraudsters impersonating both energy firms and Ofgem (the government organisation that works to protect consumers against unfair energy price rises), with the aim of tricking people into handing over their money or payment details.
Crime reports that mention one of the ‘big six’ energy suppliers (British Gas, EDF, Eon, Scottish Power, SSE and the now defunct Npower) have risen by 10% in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.
Here are some recent scams for you to watch out for:
- Fake refund emails/texts – fraudsters are posing as major suppliers to claim that recipients are entitled to refunds on their energy bills. The email or text then usually urges you to click on a link embedded in it and enter your bank details. Your energy company will already have your payment details and so will never send you an unsolicited email or text requesting these.
- Debt collectors – the collapse of many smaller energy companies has created a sea of billing confusion for customers that scammers have capitalised on. Which? report that in January of this year, they received two such reports from former customers of Brilliant Energy, which ceased trading in 2019. Both customers had received, out of the blue, an apparent debt demand from one ‘ABD Debt Recovery’, claiming they had outstanding balances on their Brilliant accounts. If your energy company ceases trading, it will be taken over by an Ofgem-appointed successor firm, which will manage your account and act as a point of contact for verifying payments. Any contact regarding outstanding balances should occur a few months down the line, not unsolicited or years later.
- Green home improvement grants – over the past few years, there has been a variety of government initiatives to improve home efficiency. The most recent is the ‘Green Homes Grant’ from 2020–21. Criminals often impersonate a legitimate scheme via cold calls, online adverts or doorstepping. Victims are then liable to pay for fake tradespeople, handing over personal data at the same time.
- Green investments – a scam involving the merging of energy and investment fraud. Which? report an email titled ‘Get more on your savings’ and claiming to be from SSE. It offered a ‘sustainability-linked bond’ which would be invested in renewable energy. The criminals behind the email stole both SSE’s logo and that of US bank Wells Fargo, which it implied was backing the bonds. They made modest promises of interest income ranging from 1.75% to 3.74%, making them look more convincing.
- Ofgem grants – scammers have been contacting individuals and pretending to be from the government organisation Ofgem, promising energy rebate payments as part of a ‘government scheme’, often to those who have recently switched suppliers.
How to avoid falling for these types of scams:
- Check the full address the email originated from – scammers can easily ‘spoof’ organisations using an email display name of their choice. Make sure to read the full email address of the sender, and check for any spelling mistakes.
- Don’t be afraid to call your energy supplier on the number on their official website to check what you have been told – real callers will not mind you hanging up to redial; only criminals will pressure you to take action immediately
- Stop to examine what you are being asked to do – be very wary of emails that request you make a payment directly to a sort code and account number without a copy of a formal invoice or bill. Bank transfers are one of the least protected and least reversible methods of payments, so they are a favourite among scammers.
- Be cautious of any urgency – scams are designed to trigger anxiety by demanding you act immediately or claiming any offers are available for a limited time only. This encourages people to act without thinking. Take time to think logically about what you are being asked to do – legitimate companies will never demand immediate action.
- Never sign up to anything from a cold call or doorstep encounter.
What action should you take?
- You can report suspicious texts you have received but not acted upon, by forwarding the original message to 7726, which spells SPAM on your keypad.
- You can report suspicious emails you have received but not acted upon, by forwarding the original message to email@example.com.
- If you have provided personal or financial details as a result of a suspicious message, or lost money because of a scam, you should report it to actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.
If you think you may have handed over your bank details to scammers, please contact us immediately.