Fraudsters are using the cost of living crisis to expand their scams, with a sharp rise in energy-related 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 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2022, the consumer group Which? said in its assessment of Action Fraud figures.
In January, the annual jump was 27 per cent. As energy bills soar, Which? said the true figure was likely to be higher, noting that many scam attempts go unreported.
Scammers are targeting 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 £784mn of bank fraud losses in 2020, the latest year for which data is available.
One of the most common methods Which? has seen are emails from scammers posing as energy suppliers inviting customers to claim a refund due to a “miscalculation” on their energy bill.
The emails look like genuine communications from energy suppliers, as the scammers “spoof” the email display name, so it appears to be coming from an official address. In order to claim the rebate, customers are invited to click a link and input their bank details.
Other phishing scams in circulation relate to the government’s £15bn energy help package.
Earlier this month, Ofgem wrote to all energy suppliers urging them to warn customers about bogus texts and WhatsApp messages purporting to be from the energy regulator.
The fake messages read: “You are eligible for the government funded £400 energy rebate,” inviting customers to click on a fake link to “complete your application”. In reality, this rebate will be automatically applied to customer bills from October.
Which? said the collapse of dozens of energy companies had created an atmosphere of confusion around outstanding bills, with scammers posing as debt collection companies in an attempt to extract money from former customers.
The consumer group has seen “sophisticated” emails received by customers including their full names and knowledge of their former supplier, adding it was particularly concerned that customer data could have been “mishandled or stolen” as companies were wound down.
Action Fraud, the national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime, has also warned of a scam where criminals clone prepayment meter tokens, and sell these on at reduced prices. It warned that in reality, customers would end up paying for their energy consumption twice, once their legitimate supplier had established what was happening.
“We advise all consumers to be wary of unsolicited emails, texts or letters, especially those not addressed to you by name which might request sensitive information or ask you to complete a bank transfer,” said Jenny Ross, Which? money editor.
A simple way to check the origin of emails claiming to be from an energy provider is by clicking the sender name to display the source email address. Consumers can then check their supplier’s official domain name on the company’s official website. Which? also cautions that consumers’ legitimate supplier will never ask for bank details, as they have them on record.
“If in doubt, contact your energy supplier directly using the contact information on their website,” Ross added.