Thousands caught out in prepayment electricity scam
Published ¤ 07/09/2010 14:18:31
Around 85,000 prepayment meter customers have had to fork out for the same electricity twice after being sold illegal electricity credit by doorstep fraudsters as part of a widespread scam.
The criminals knock on doors and offer customers who pay for their electricity in advance £50 of electricity credit for just £25. Once the customer accepts the offer, which most assume to be a special discount, the salesman uses a cloned key or card to top up their meter.
However, energy companies can detect when they have not received the correct payment for the electricity used and will charge customers the full £50 next time they top up their electricity. This means customers end up paying twice, first to the criminal and then to their energy supplier.
Industry regulator Ofgem has demanded that Energy UK produces a report within 14 days on the issue.
Alistair Buchanan, chief executive of Ofgem, said: "We want Energy UK to set out, amongst other things, how it was possible for this fraud to occur, and when it was first detected. We also want to know how many customers have been affected, and what action has been taken to alert them".
Once Ofgem receives the report it will consider whether any lessons need to be learnt to prevent this fraud from happening in future.
Energy companies and consumer groups are warning customers not to buy credit for their electricity meter from doorstep sellers.
Christine McGourty, director at Energy UK, which represents all the leading energy companies, said: "This a serious and widespread scam and we're launching the Top-Up Safe campaign to urge customers to steer clear of the criminals behind it. Just like when you buy something fake online - like a ticket for a football match or a music concert – you’re the one who'll end up losing out in the end".
"It's essential that you only top-up your electricity meter from recognised PayPoint or Payzone shops or The Post Office," she added.
Mike O'Connor CBE, chief executive of Consumer Focus, said: "This despicable scam is putting cash in the pockets of criminals and defrauding thousands of people who are already hard pressed in this economic climate. Consumers must be on the alert for anyone who comes to their doorstep claiming to sell electricity credit. Any customer worried that they may have been affected should call their energy supplier or Consumer Direct to seek advice".
Anyone who knows someone selling illegal electricity top ups is being urged to contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or visit Crimestoppers-uk.org.
If you think you are paying too much for your electricity, or you want to find the cheapest utilities in your area, then click here to visit our Utility Warehouse site.
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