Although contacting your utility providers should be easy, it can also be all too easy for third parties to contact you, especially claiming to do so on behalf of your provider. Unfortunately, there are a variety of ways in which third parties may be able to gather enough of your details to act as though they are your utility provider; whether this is with the goal to harvest information from you, take your bank details or other payments, scams have disaster out effects on ourselves and our households.
In this piece, we look to talk you through the most common scams and give you support in how to avoid risking your money and your safety by making sure that those contacting you are honest, reputable and focused on your wellbeing.
The first step towards this is through recognising common techniques used by scammers, for example,
The “rate too good to be true” scam
As the title may show, this is a situation in which a party may contact you to offer an unbelievable rate for your utilities, whether through a colossal discount or straight forward switching scheme that your current supplier couldn’t possibly match.
It is common that, following your acceptance of these offers, the rate will change almost immediately. Why? Well, although you may be told that this is due to a change in the market, it is in fact that these (usually unprofessional looking) websites were built to scam you. This can often happen following searches for “cheapest electricity rates” or using “are you paying too much?” links with little substance behind their pricing pages.
The “Security Deposit” scam
The Security Deposit scam usually requires an individual being contacted by someone claiming to work on behalf of their bank; they will explain that a switch between suppliers has been unsuccessful, and therefore they are required to pay a large amount of money in the name of a “security deposit” that will then be passed onto the supplier.
The scammer will usually claim this to be urgent, and will do all they can to keep you on the phone with them, possibly even claiming that your electricity or gas will be cut to your property if you do not provide the payment. Of course, this is untrue; Although some energy suppliers will ask a business for a security deposit if they are deemed to be high risk, for example, someone with a very low credit score or a start-up business, this request will always be made by the supplier as your contract is being discussed, and should never come at random after this.
The request for a security deposit will always come from the supplier, to be paid to the supplier. Although your broker may be a messenger in this case, know that they will not be the one receiving payment.
The “Utilities Registration Service” scam
We have also heard reports of customers receiving calls from an official sounding source claiming that they are the “utilities registration service”, “metering registration service”, or something similar. The problem being that these bodies do not exist.
Victims are often told that there is an issue with their energy supply and that they must immediately switch supplier, to then recommend a body for them to switch to. Whether or not this body exists, it is unlikely that both your energy supply is in danger, and that the suggested company would ever receive your contacted payment. These are simple cold calls with the goal of taking your information and using them to the benefit of the scammer.
The “Editing Suite” Scam
You may be aware that business energy contracts tend to be largely based around verbal contracts which are recorded for safety. A reputable TPI or supplier should record an entire call (with your knowledge) which will include full verbal acceptance of the contract, alongside details about it. By doing this, the supplier can refer back to ensure that they are aware exactly what you agreed to, what you were told, and what your expectations are as their customer.
The problem here is that a number of parties look to edit call recordings, creating a false narrative and changing vital details that you believe to be a part of your contract. Some are even known to have deployed editing suites to fuse together affirmative responses to questions a business was never asked.
While it is not easy to stop someone looking to commit fraud, you have a legal right to both request a copy of all recordings and be aware you they are being recorded each time. This is why many businesses have this information as part of an automated passover service before you speak to customer service teams. Telling a fraudster that you demand access to this recording before making any verbal (or otherwise) contract should slow the process and give you time to check in with your provider on the details.
How can I prevent phishing and scams?
Being aware of potential threats and why people may target you is the first step to protecting yourself and your business against fraud, but there are a number of other ways that you can ensure you are speaking to who you wants to be, such as…
- Visits to your property, or phone call identification.
In any scenario, a provider should visit your business property occasionally to do a number of tasks from checking meter readings to collecting outstanding payments and doing maintenance. They will always have staff ID and branded uniforms, especially those from Morrison Data Services (MDS) who read meters on behalf of big companies such as EDF Energy. If you feel as though you are unsure and would like to check the identity of a worker with MDS, you can call them on 0191 201 3791. If the partner company is not MDS, you can call EDF directly to verify the information on 0333 200 5100.
EDF also provide a password for you that the visitor is expected to provide before entering your property to ensure that they are who to claim to be.
- Know where to reach out to for advice and guidance.
The Take Five and Cyber Aware campaigns have practical advice on their website, whilst suspicious activity can be reported to Action Fraud. The Centre for Protection on National Infrastructure also posted this useful video on phishing and spear phishing.
Some simple tips to avoid scams;
- Don’t respond to cold calls from your supplier, or others that are unable to give you personal details that prove to them who they are.
- Don’t give out your bank details or your personal details: In most cases, a body you are contracted with should already have this information in a secure location.
- Check email addresses or phone numbers contacting you: Most businesses have one ongoing email used for contacting clients, for example firstname.lastname@example.org – Ask yourself if the details you have now are the same as those you may have received confirmation emails or account updates from previously.
- Check letters for branding: Businesses should always send letters with a header attached.
- If in doubt, shout: If you are in any doubt, then call Citizens Advice on 0808 223 1133or online.
- If you are being offered a rate that is too good to be true, pause and consider whether or not it is likely to be a scam. You can always hang up and contact the supplier yourself to check whether the rate given is possible for you.
- Check the market yourself; do your research before signing contracts with any broker by checking in on recent market trends and rises or falls in prices that could impact bulk buying the product.
- Check for any letters or emails of notification on changes to your account; if you have not received these, it is likely you are the victim of phishing, but
- Consider whether you have been provided with security questions. While you may occasionally receive a phone call from your provider to discuss your account, they should always verify themselves through a variety of questions that have been set previously. This means that you should recognise them. You should never be asked for your passwords or bank details, and you will never be expected to make an upfront payment to sign up to a special tariff or contract.
- Don’t open attachments until you know it is reliable.
- Use reputable sources to ensure that the information you are being given is accurate and up to date.