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How to spot cost of living support scams this autumn – according to an expert

·3-min read
Watch out for cost-of-living scams (Alamy/PA)
Watch out for cost-of-living scams (Alamy/PA)

When we’re expecting something to happen – like financial support being made available to help with surging bills – it can make us less likely to think twice if we receive a message about it.

Fraudsters used this widespread sense of anticipation to their advantage during the early months of the pandemic, when household deliveries soared as people stayed at home. People were bombarded with fake ‘sorry we missed you’ texts and emails, pretending to be from courier companies and delivery firms.

Now, Chris Ainsley, head of fraud risk management at Santander UK, says he’s expecting scammers to use cost-of-living payments as a new way to strike.

He explains fraudsters will use the fact that people are looking out for information about particular subjects as a “hook”.

It’s a good idea to be extra careful with this, because communications could look very realistic. Ainsley warns that criminals will often try to copy information used in official messaging, which could make what they are saying appear more plausible.

“I would be expecting them to look at any genuine communication that goes out from firms or councils or whoever else, to take advantage of that,” he says.

One strong warning sign that you’ve received a scam message or email is being asked to provide your bank details – always stop and step back if this happens.

The cost-of-living package being delivered in the coming months includes a £400 discount on energy bills which will start from October, with £66 being applied to bills in October and November, rising to £67 each month from December through to March 2023.

The discount will be administered by energy suppliers – and it’s also important to bear in mind that the UK Government says no household should be asked for bank details at any point as the discount is applied.

Other support measures include a £650 one-off cost-of-living payment for households on certain means-tested benefits; a £300 one-off pensioner cost-of-living payment for pensioner households to be paid alongside the winter fuel payment; and a £150 one-off disability cost-of-living payment for people who receive certain disability benefits.

Consumer group Which? says there has already been a jump in energy-related scams exploiting the cost-of-living crisis – so consumers should be wary of texts, emails or letters about the energy bills discount.

The consumer group has already seen scam emails pretending people are due a refund, due to a miscalculation on their energy bill.

If you receive a suspect text, you can report it to Ofcom by forwarding it to 7726. And if you think you’ve been tricked into transferring money or giving personal banking details, tell your bank immediately. Scams can also be reported to Action Fraud.