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Sharp rise in energy-related scams as household bills soar in Britain

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

Disadvantages of naming the UK’s largest energy companies rose 10 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2022, consumer group Which? said in its assessment of Action Fraud figures.

In January, the annual jump was 27 percent. If utility bills rise, which ones? said the actual figure would likely be higher, noting that many scams attempts go unreported.

Scammers target consumers with “phishing” attempts designed to collect their personal information, including banking information, which can then be used to carry out more sophisticated fraud.

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

One of the most common methods Which? has seen its emails from scammers posing as energy suppliers inviting customers to demand a refund due to an “error calculation” on their utility bills.

The emails look like genuine communications from energy suppliers, as the scammers “fake” the email’s display name to appear to be coming from an official address. To claim the discount, customers are invited to click on a link and enter their bank details.

Other phishing scams circulating involve the government’s £15 billion energy aid package.

Earlier this month, Ofgem addressed to all energy suppliers urging them to warn customers about fake texts and WhatsApp messages that supposedly come from the energy regulator.

The fake messages read: “You are eligible for the government-funded energy discount of £400”, inviting customers to click on a fake link to “complete your application”. In reality, this discount will be automatically applied to customers’ accounts 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 take money from former customers.

The consumer group has seen “sophisticated” emails received by customers, including their full name and knowledge of their former supplier, and added that it was particularly concerned that customer data could be “mishandled or stolen” when companies were shut down. liquidated.

Action Fraud, the national fraud and cybercrime hotline, has also warned of a scam where criminals clone prepayment meter tokens and resell them at discounted prices. It warned that customers would in reality pay twice for their energy consumption once their legitimate supplier identified what was going on.

“We encourage all consumers to be wary of any unsolicited emails, text messages or letters, especially those not addressed to you by name, requesting sensitive information or asking you to make a bank transfer” , says 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 display the source email address. Consumers can then check their supplier’s official domain name on the company’s official website. Which? also warns that the legitimate supplier will never ask consumers for bank details as they have it registered.

“When in doubt, contact your energy supplier directly using the contact details on their website,” Ross added.

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