The global energy sector is in crisis. Supply chain woes and maintenance leftover from the pandemic, a fickle and bloodthirsty despot kinking the hose that supplies Europe with most of its natural gas, severe droughts causing issues with energy supply and transport ranging from China to Switzerland, bad and dangerous policy-making, and infrastructure-smashing hurricanes are just part of the long list of snags in the global energy sphere this month. And now there’s a fresh problem to add to the list: energy scams are multiplying at a frightening rate around the world.
In Europe, constituents are struggling to keep the lights on as energy bills soar to dizzying heights under the pressure of Vladmir Putin’s war in Ukraine. Across the continent, warning signs of a huge outbreak of social unrest are percolating just under the surface as the cost of living climbs untenably high heading into a long, cold winter. In Poland, residents are already queuing for days and sleeping in their cars to stock up on coal. The European Union is frantically working to raise 140 billion Euros worth of funds to help shield consumers and businesses from punishing energy prices. A Reuters report released Wednesday painted the picture of the situation with the headline “Europe burns cash to help businesses in energy crisis.”
In the UK, the situation is similarly dire, but with some Brexit flair. After the country voted to separate themselves from the EU, British leaders seem to be furious that the plan worked a little too well. The UK remains locked out of a European energy trading framework that was supposed to be developed this year, adding an extra strain to its energy supply. British leaders have lashed out at Brussels, blaming the EU for driving up the UK’s energy bills. Britain, too, has unveiled a massive financial support plan which aims to cut business’ electric bills by about half throughout the winter.
Such attempts to relieve the strain on constituents, however, have also opened up opportunities for scammers looking to extort them. In the UK, police have been swarmed with reports of multiple concurrent scams in which criminals are attempting to cash in on the energy crisis by posing as the energy regulator Ofgem, which recently announced that it will be sending a £400 energy bill discount for all households. One phishing scheme asks recipients to hand over their personal information via email in order to "Claim your bill rebate now." This scam was quickly sniffed out by many due to a glaring mistake in the dates, which encouraged users to apply before 2020. Others go as far as creating a fake Oxfam website in which users are encouraged to register for their discount. “The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) has received thousands of reports about scam emails pretending to be from the energy regulator, with more than 1,500 reports made between 5 August to 22 August,” Yahoo! News reported on Wednesday.
Similar scams have unfolded over a similar relief package in Germany, where all workers are set to receive €300 taxable payment this month, known as the Energiepreispauschale or EEP. In this case, too, emails are circulating falsely addressed from a savings bank, encouraging people to apply or register for their payment – though in Germany, as in the UK, the payment will be delivered automatically to eligible residents’ accounts. Scammers have also employed similar schemes via SMS text messaging. Unlike many phishing schemes, the messages are written in excellent German with few or no grammatical errors, making them harder to detect as fraudulent.
Across the pond in the United States, the energy crisis has not reached anywhere near the scorching levels that it has in the UK and the EU. But energy consumers are being plagued with scams nonetheless. CenterPoint Energy, an American Fortune 500 electric and natural gas utility serving markets spread across the south and the midwest, has gone so far as to make an entire dedicated section of their website to identify common energy and electric bill scams. Email and text phishing scams such as those popping up like mushrooms in the UK and Europe are just two of CenterPoint’s ten listed common approaches. And just this month, NorthWestern Energy is “warning customers of aggressive and widespread scam activity.” This time it involves phone calls from spoofed local phone numbers.
In order to protect yourself from scams, it’s important to familiarize yourself with ways to sniff out phishing schemes. Electric utilities and authorities will never ask you to provide sensitive information or payment details over email, text message, or a phone call. If ever in doubt, pause communications with those claiming to be representatives and contact the company directly yourself through their official channels.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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