Scammers are attempting to exploit the cost of living crisis by targeting consumers whose energy supplier has collapsed, analysis by Which? has found.
Former customers of bust suppliers including Solarplicity, Future Energy and Northumbria Energy have been singled out by fraudsters attempting to exploit the confusion caused by the companies’ failures, the consumer group said.
Nearly 30 suppliers have collapsed over the past year as rising wholesale prices and the energy price cap squeezed firms out of business.
Scammers posed as debt collection firms and used phishing emails complete with consumers’ names and knowledge of their former supplier.
Which? said it was concerned that customer information had been mishandled or stolen as companies have been wound down and their data passed between energy brokers, mailing firms, new suppliers and debt collectors.
In the first quarter of this year, figures from Action Fraud obtained by the organisation show scams mentioning the biggest energy suppliers had risen 10% compared with the same period last year. January alone saw a 27% increase on last year.
Soaring energy bills appear to have emboldened scammers to pose as suppliers and encourage victims to input their bank details to claim a refund due to a miscalculation of their energy bill.
Britons looking to reduce their bills through renewable energy schemes have also been targeted – fraudsters have been found impersonating legitimate government schemes to incentivise the use of insulation and heat pumps through online scams, cold calling or doorstep visits.
Citizens Advice estimates about 5 million people may have been taken in by such scams, paying for services that never materialised.
The Which? money editor, Jenny Ross, 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.”
The energy crisis has hit consumers with annual bills expected to reach nearly £3,000 this October. The National Audit Office this week accused regulator Ofgem of creating a market “vulnerable to large-scale shocks”.