Scams mentioning one of the big six energy firms have jumped 10% in the first quarter of the year as fraudsters try to exploit the cost of living crisis.
Figures from Action Fraud obtained by consumer body Which? shows that January alone saw a 27% year on year increase.
Phishing emails were one of the most common scams, where the scammer posing as an energy supplier emails the customer inviting them to claim a refund, due to a mistake on their energy bill.
Which? said it had come across a scam where a fraudster posing as major supplier Eon, offering a rebate of £85. In order to claim this, the victim was then instructed to click a link and submit their bank details.
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The consumer body warns that these emails can often look legitimate, especially if the scammer has “spoofed” the email display name so it appears to be coming from an official account.
Action Fraud has also warned of a scam which sees criminals cloning prepayment meter tokens with credit pre-loaded, and then selling these on at a cut-rate price. In theory, those purchasing the cloned meter tokens could make significant savings – for example £100 of credit purchased for just £50 – but in reality victims will end up paying for their energy consumption twice, once their legitimate supplier establishes what is happening.
Which? has also seen examples of energy-related investment scams. A consumer reported a scam email purporting to be from SSE, promising modest and therefore seemingly legitimate interest rates of 1.75% to 3.74% on a fake ‘sustainability-linked bond’.
The collapse of several small energy firms has also created confusion around outstanding bills, with scammers utilising this uncertainty to pose as debt collection firms.
Which? received two such reports from former customers of Brilliant Energy, which saw the individuals concerned receiving highly sophisticated phishing emails, including their names and knowledge of their former supplier, more than two years after the company had been wound up.
Reports suggest that customers of defunct firms including Solarplicity, Future Energy and Northumbria Energy have been similarly affected.
Jenny Ross, Which? money editor, said: “As households continue to feel the squeeze of rising energy costs, it can be all too easy to fall victim to sophisticated scams promising ways to reduce energy bills or even offer refunds due to a billing error.
“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. If in doubt contact your energy supplier directly using the contact information on their website.
“Which? also encourages energy suppliers to sign up to our SMS best practice guide for businesses, to make it easier for consumers to spot scam texts impersonating suppliers.”
The consumer body is also concerned by the opportunities for customer information to be mishandled or stolen as companies are wound down and personal data passes between energy brokers, mailing consultants, new suppliers, debt collectors and other third parties.
An Ofgem spokesperson said: “Protecting consumers is our top priority and it is alarming that vulnerable customers are being preyed upon in this way when people are already struggling so much.
“That’s why, as energy regulator, on top of issuing our own warnings and advice, we have asked all energy suppliers to ensure clear and up-to-date information on scams is easily accessible on their websites.
“We take these attempts to exploit consumers very seriously and work with the National Cyber Security Centre to prevent these malicious attacks.
“If people are unsure if something is a scam, they should pause, check and don’t let callers push you into anything. Genuine organisations won’t mind you calling back; only scammers apply pressure and insist you hand over details immediately. If you have any doubts about a message, consumers should contact the organisation directly and not use the numbers or address in the message – use the details from their official website.”
Watch: Phishing scam red flags to look for