As the cost-of-living crisis worsens, Which? has seen a significant increase in scammers impersonating energy firms to trick victims into handing over money or payment details.
In some instances, victims could be put in serious physical danger by tactics that claim to save them money.
Putting a number on the rise in energy-related scams isn’t easy, as police fraud reporting unit Action Fraud doesn’t group energy-related frauds together. However, it was able to share with Which? that crime reports which mentioned one of the ‘big six’ suppliers (British Gas, EDF, Eon, Scottish Power, SSE and the now defunct Npower) rose 10% in the first quarter of 2022 compared with the same period in 2021.
January 2022 saw a 27% increase in such reports, when compared with the previous January. We suspect these figures only capture a tiny fraction of the energy-related scams taking place across the country.
Read on to find out how criminals are targeting people in these straitened times, and how to protect yourself from their schemes.
It's tempting to think you wouldn't fall victim to a scam. But with energy prices rising, and a slew of government initiatives and advice from firms, it's easy to get confused.
Scammers can be very convincing and, to make matters worse, we've found that energy firms can send emails that occasionally look like scams.
Take our quiz to see if you can spot the difference, then read on to learn more about fraudsters' various tactics.
Fraudsters posed as major supplier Eon to claim that the recipient was entitled to an £85 refund. ‘Our system indicates that an error in our billing procedures has led to an overcharge,’ the email announced, before urging you to click on a link and enter your banking details to get your money.
Watch our video to see how one of these Eon scammers tried to steal £1,000 from our video reporters account.
The email rightly raised flags with recipients as many weren't even supplied by Eon. Scammers sent out the email en masse in the knowledge that at least some inboxes would belong to Eon customers.
Your energy supplier already has your payment details and so will never send an unsolicited email or text requesting these.
Imagine a small plug-like device that could shave ‘up to 90%’ off your energy bill, but ‘Big Energy’ doesn’t want you to know and is desperate to destroy it. This isn’t the plot of a low-budget sci-fi film, but instead a real claim made by a website.
The device it’s marketing is called Voltex, which was also previously marketed under the name Motex, although since our recent investigation Motex has been withdrawn from sale due to ‘security concerns’.
Our investigation looked specifically at Motex, plus two similar ‘energy-saving’ devices for sale on Amazon and a further two from eBay. None of the five devices in our investigation passed our basic safety tests. Indeed, they were so poorly made they were at risk of causing fires or electric shocks.
We also found no evidence that any of the four would save energy.
The collapse of many smaller energy companies in recent years has created billing confusion that scammers have swiftly capitalised on.
In January 2022 we received two such reports from former customers of Brilliant Energy, which ceased trading in 2019. Both had received, out of the blue, an apparent debt demand from one ‘ABD Debt Recovery’, claiming they had outstanding balances on their Brilliant accounts.
The emails addressed each customer by name and demonstrated knowledge of their former supplier. More worrying still, online reports indicated that ex-customers of defunct firms Solarplicity, Future Energy and Northumbria Energy have also been individually targeted.
How did the crooks know customers’ names? It’s difficult to pinpoint the source of the leak because, as is common when energy firms cease to trade, customer data passes through many hands. These include energy brokers, mailing houses, new suppliers, billing consultants and debt collection agencies.
If your energy supplier ceases trading, it will be swiftly taken over by an Ofgem-appointed successor firm, which manages your account and acts as a point of contact for verifying any payment requests you then receive. Contact regarding outstanding balances or credit should be received a few months down the line, not out of the blue three years later, as in this case.
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Over the years, a variety of government energy-efficiency initiatives have come and gone - most recently the from 2020 to 2021. Fraudsters love to impersonate legitimate schemes via cold calls, doorstepping and online adverts.
You could find yourself paying for tradespeople who never turn up or do a shoddy job, and handing over personal details (including, of course, your address).
Action Fraud is warning of a scam targeting households that have prepayment meters.
Gangs of criminals are cloning prepayment meter keys with, for example, £100 of credit on them, before selling them door-to-door for just £50, effectively offering homes half-price energy. Sometimes the criminals even pose as energy company employees.
It seems like a good deal to householders, but it can backfire spectacularly months or years down the line. Eventually your legitimate supplier realises you’re not paying it for your energy, and investigates. You then find yourself paying again for the energy used – this time at full whack.
Never engage with or purchase any goods or services from doorstep salespeople, as you may struggle to locate them again and obtain a refund if you have problems with your purchase. Don’t let anyone into your home unless you were already expecting them.
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Titled ‘Get more on your savings!’, it claimed to be from SSE and offered a ‘sustainability-linked bond’ which would be invested in renewable energy. The criminals behind the email abused not only SSE’s logo but also that of US bank Wells Fargo, which it implied was backing the bonds.
They made modest promises of interest ranging from 1.75% to 3.74%, making them look more convincing.
In May 2022, Ofgem warned of claims circulating on social media that you can save money on energy bills by tampering with your meter. And Martin Lewis has warned of a conspiracy theory doing the rounds which incorrectly asserts households are being charged simply for having a meter.
In 2018, a Leicester resident was given a three-year prison sentence for twice tampering with the gas meter in his flat. Investigators said his actions could have caused a huge explosion, endangering the lives of 20 residents in six flats.