Energy bill and tax rebate scams on the rise

Scams focusing on energy bill deals and council tax rebates to trick people into handing over their money are growing as cost of living rises, a banking trade body has said.

Criminals were “building on people’s fears” of high prices, UK Finance said.

Fraud where people were duped into sending money and personal details surged 39% in 2021 compared with 2020.

While people of all age groups are falling victim to such scams, younger people are being targeted more.

UK Finance said criminals are exploiting “weaknesses outside of the banking system”, often through online and social media platforms.

Fake delivery texts asking for payment or NHS Covid-19 pass scams during the height of the pandemic were now being replaced by schemes focusing on cost-of-living challenges.

Criminals impersonate a range of organisations ranging from the NHS, to banks and government departments via phone calls, text messages, emails, fake websites and social media posts, the banking trade body said.

In total, £1.3bn, the most on record, was stolen through fraud in 2021, an 8% increase from the year before.

Scams when a criminal steals card details to get money fell by 7% in 2021.

But so-called authorised push payment fraud (APP) – when victims think they are paying a genuine organisation – rose by 39% to £583m.

Less than half (47%) of the £246.8m worth of losses were returned to victims of authorised push payment fraud.

Authorised push payment fraud losses outstripped fraud losses on bank and credit cards for the first time in the first half of 2021. Investment fraud cases surged by 57% and impersonation scams rose 36% on the year before.

Investment scams, where a criminal convinces their victim to move their money to a fictitious fund or to pay for a fake investment, accounted for the largest proportion of losses of this type of crime in 2021, with losses increasing by 60% to £166.2m.

This includes fake investments ranging from gold to property but fraudulent cryptocurrency funds are also on the rise.

Meanwhile, money lost through so-called romance scams, where the victim is persuaded to make a payment to a person they have met, often through social media or dating websites, and with whom they believe they are in a relationship, more than doubled in 2021 to £30.6m.

Payment service providers were only able to return £12.6m – 41% – of the losses from romance scams, mainly because payments were made over an extended period of time and criminals had moved money by the time the crime was reported.

If you’ve had money taken from your account, or your bank details stolen and payments made, then you’re protected by law.

Ultimately your bank should refund that money so they have a big incentive to crack down on that type of crime.

It’s working, with a fall in the number of unauthorised transactions, and record amounts of theft prevented.

The bad news for customers is that the area that is most difficult to police and prevent is the area of fraud that’s growing fastest.

If you are conned into making a payment, an investment, or a transfer, then you’ve not got the same legal financial protections.

You should still get in touch with your bank immediately, they may be able to chase the payment, possibly return it, and some will make good-will money back gestures, but they are not obliged to.

With younger people being targeted more by these types of scams, and often more likely to fall for them, it’s worth repeating the advice to just think for an extra second.

Pause those speedy fingers, and don’t give your details straight away.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said there had also been a hike in investment scams where criminals set up fake cryptocurrency websites featuring celebrities supposedly endorsing them on social media.

She said upcoming legislation – the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill – provided an opportunity for the government “to give new powers on information sharing and tracking stolen money”.

“These are things we have long called for and will support efforts to work together and stop the fraud happening in the first place,” she added.

The Dedicated Card and Payment Card Crime Unit, a specialist police unit that targets the organised criminal gangs behind fraud, prevented £101m of fraud in 2021 – the largest amount in the unit’s 20-year history, UK Finance said.

The industry body is urging customers to follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, and remember that criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police.

People should contact their bank immediately if they think they have been conned and report it to Action Fraud.

•PHOTO: A Scammer