Combating Theft & Fraud

Neil Williams

12 Mar 2021

Tilix helps electric utilities conduct their business with the highest level of integrity by suporting them develop processes, policies and technology for prevention, detection and response on fraud.

Illegal behaviour such as meter tampering, tenancy fraud, cyber crime and ID theft is expensive for the global electricity supply industry and results in higher bills for honest, hard working customers. Tilix encourages its utility industry clients to have zero tolerance policies against any conspiracy to defraud including:

  • Illegitimate change of tenancy
  • Mis-selling
  • Meter tampering
  • Cyber crime

Electricity companies can use various processes, technology, trained staff and customer education to counter fraud. Best practice for these firms is to support customers in the front line by:

  • Providing information and a point of contact for people who are unsure whether or not they were the target of a scam.
  • Helping victims of fraud engage with the police.

Dishonest Brokers

In the UK, there are well documented cases of unscrupulous parties who have got thousands of gas and electricity customers to illegally change the tenancy names on their property to avoid settling unpaid bills.

Customers would then switch energy supplier and leave their original provider with outstanding debt, while “the broker” falsely claimed tens of thousands of pounds in commission.

Police and industry investigators have found these criminals using hundreds of mobile phones, sim cards and fake passports to help perpretrate these frauds.

Now the UK energy industry treats change of tenancy much more cautiously with strict requirements for documentary evidence and much more detailed checks. Unfortunately this can frustrate honest customers and the staff responible for managing the validation process.

Meter tampering

Anybody tampering with the meter or the energy supply is committing a criminal offence. They also put their business premises, their staff and customers at risk, as well as their neighbours.

In the UK, supply businesses are legally obligated to undertake a number of measures to proactively identify and investigate meter tampering. Where it is found that meter tampering has occurred the utility firm is obligated to make the site safe which may involve disconnecting supply. The supplier is entitled to recover the associated costs and, depending on the severity of the tampering found, possibly take court action.

Reasonable actions that UK suppliers may take include:

  • Gain access to premises to inspect the metering equipment; a visual check is essential to confirm tampering activity and assess whether the premises and equipment are safe.
  • If access is refused, a supplier can apply to the courts for a warrant of entry, which gives the legal right to gain access to a premise, by force if necessary.
  • Recover all costs associated with the tampering investigation, replacing, or repairing a tampered meter and the value of energy assessed to have been stolen.
  • Install alternative metering equipment
  • Monitor ongoing energy consumption and maintain appropriate records to help determine whether there are any further attempts to use energy illegally.
  • Carry out a disconnection of supply where co-operation is not achieved and/or premises upon inspection are found to be unsafe.
  • Undertake action in the civil courts to recover all of their costs and the value of stolen and unbilled energy where a customer decides not to pay.
  • Pursue action in the criminal courts either via private prosecution or via the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) in Scotland.

Cyber Crime

Criminals pose a threat to electricity companies and their customers in relation to identity theft and other scams aided by digital technology.

When receiving an e-mail from purporting to be from an electricty supply business, a customer should expect:

  • Not be asked for personal details except where previously arranged;
  • An e-mail which is only addressed to the account holder or a nominated individual;
  • The message or attachment to contain a contract and/or customer reference number.

Phone scams

When a cusotmer calls a utility company the customer service agent should seek to verify the identity of the caller to make sure an authorised account holder is on the line. The agent may ask some validation questions but account details must not be disclosed until identity has been verified. The utility company should never ask for the passwords or security details for a customer’s bank accounts or cards.

Customers should be cautious when receiving a call claiming to be from an electricity supplier. They should be mindful of who to trust and should not be afraid to ask questions to verify the identity of the caller. On the phone, criminals will tend to use more aggressive, pressuring tactics.

Calls typically start with the scammer falsely claiming that they work for an electricity company. It’s important to understand that scammers can replicate the phone numbers and caller ID to make it appear as if they are in fact calling on behalf of a legitimate business.

Once they have aimed at establishing their credibility, scammers will then typically insist that their target has an electricity bill debt and will demand payment immediately so as to avoid electricity being shut off that same day.

Customers should be aware that scammers will typically:

  1. Request payment via unusual methods for example cash, money orders, wire transfers, gift cards, or prepaid debit or credit cards. Legitimate electricity supply businesses should never request payment via these means.
  2. Demand actions are taken whilst on the phone. Why? They are trying to pressure targets into action before they have had time to think it through or ask a trusted party for advice.

Door-to-Door Scams

Door-to-door scammers must use more finesse and slick sales tactics since they are standing directly in front of a target. They will try to build a relationship by using friendly conversation. Often these scammers will present enticing options to enroll in a cost saving, lower energy rate. Perhaps they will tell lies about your existing supplier and the industry at large.

Customers should verify the identity of a meter reader or a metering technician that visits. Meter readers or metering technicians should always carry visible identification, wear a uniform and will typically arrive in a branded van. Concerned customers should not hesitate to call their electricity supplier to confirm the identity of field service agents.

It can be quite difficult to tell scammers apart from legitimate field agents. However, customers who pay close attention can be confident in being able to differentiate between rogues and the real deal.