I know there’s been a lot of doom and gloom in the news lately, and I hate to add to it, but it’s scam warning time again! The cost of living crisis has given crooks all sorts of ideas for scams (new and old) and they’re rubbing their hands with glee…
Here are a few to look out for:
Fake energy bill refunds: These usually come by email or text message from one of the big energy companies and say something along the lines of, “Our system indicates that an error in our billing procedures has led to an overcharge”. It then asks you to click on a link and fill in your payment details to get the refund. But the trick is that the link takes you to a realistic-looking but fake website and they’ll just steal your card details once you’ve typed them in.
“Energy-saver” device rip-offs: Adverts for various energy saving devices are making the rounds at the moment, especially on social media, and claim to do extraordinary things like “cut your electricity bills by 50%”. Some scammers are also trying to flog them by cold calling and pretending to be from an energy supplier. These things are usually just a little plastic box that plugs into your mains socket and does nothing apart from increase the risk of a fire! If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Council tax rebate scams: The £150 council tax rebate back in April has triggered a flurry of scams – and they’re still coming. These could come by letter, phone call, email or text message, and as usual they’ll ask for your bank details. If you pay your council tax by direct debit, you’ll probably have got the rebate already, automatically. If your council don’t have your bank details from a direct debit, they will have written to you to explain how you get it. If you got a letter from them, check the council tax reference is yours, and to be extra sure it’s genuine go on their website to check that what the letter is asking you to do matches the information on the website.
Ofgem energy rebate scams: This one is very similar to the council tax rebate scam. It might come by email, phone call, text message, social media or even someone knocking on your door. The government energy rebate later in the year is being dealt with by energy suppliers – Ofgem would never ask you for payment or personal details.
Pre-payment electric meter scams: Criminal gangs have been cloning pre-payment meter keys and flogging them door-to-door for half price. Don’t buy them. Your electric company will figure out that you haven’t paid for the electricity you’ve used and you’ll be out of pocket.
Green energy investments: Green energy is on the up, and so are green energy investment scams. If you’re cold called by someone trying to persuade you to invest, hang up the phone. The same goes for any investment. If you’re looking to invest in the stock market, always use a reputable stock dealer like Hargreaves Lansdown, and speak to an independent financial adviser if you’re at all unsure.
So with all these scams (and more) kicking around, how do you tell what’s genuine and what isn’t? Some scams are fairly easy to spot due to things like poor grammar or fuzzy logos, but many scammers are very good at making things look professional and near-identical to the real company or organisation. It’s also reasonably easy to fake things like email addresses, so even if they look genuine they might not be.
If you receive a call, email or text message that you’re not sure about, contact the company using a phone number or email address you already have – don’t use one in the email or text message because that could go straight to the scammers. So if it’s your energy supplier, dig out a bill and use the phone number on that. Or if it’s your council, find your council tax bill to get their number.
Don’t click on any links in messages because that could take you to a fake website the scammers have set up. If you want to check your account online, then go to the website by typing the address in (not by clicking or tapping on any links in the email or text message).
One final thing I want to mention – if you get a cold call and they say “call me back on the phone number on your bill to confirm I work for Scottish Power” (or whoever) be careful. If they don’t hang up on their end, when you dial the new number you’ll just connect back to the scammer. Use a different phone if you can (e.g. your mobile if the call came in on your landline) or call someone else first (e.g. a friend or the talking clock on 123) to make sure the line’s clear.
There are a lot of truly awful people out there trying to take advantage of people. If you’re looking for more information, the Take Five website has lots more tips and advice on how to spot scams and avoid getting ripped off.