A scam alert has been issued by ministers encouraging people not to fall foul of fraudulent messages asking them to provide bank details as the energy price guarantee comes into force.

The government fears scammers could target people by wrongly telling them they need to claim for the support announced in September amid steeply rising energy bills and the cost of living crisis.

From October 1, a limit on the price households pay for a unit of gas and electricity they will use came into force, meaning a typical energy bill should be £2,500 a year. The first instalment of a £400 discount for households will also appear on bills.

Business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said he wanted to “urge people to stay alert to scams” because the support would “reach people automatically” and there was no need to apply.

The warning comes as the number of people falling prey to fraud has risen by a quarter in the past two years, according to ONS figures.

Norfolk police reported that in 2021 incidents of fraud and computer misuse increased by 17 per cent, to more than 5,328 crimes in a year.

Consumers are being urged to report any suspected energy bill scams and the government said no household should be asked for bank details at any point.

What is an energy bill scam?

Energy bill scammers can contact people by phone, text message, social media posts or email, promising them money off their energy bills.

They will often pretend to be from Ofgem or a reputable energy company and ask for personal information, including bank details.

There is usually an urgency with the call, with the fraudster pressuring the consumer to give up information in order to avail of certain offers or deals.

The energy price guarantee has offered them a new opportunity to target households.

What do fraudulent texts look like?

Norfolk Trading Standards have also warned people about a number of text messages circulating claiming to be connected to support with energy bills.

Consumers have been receiving fake text messages telling them they need to register to be eligible for the government scheme.

Ofgem have stated that any bill deductions will come from your energy supplier and be automatically applied to your bill and that there is no need to apply for any scheme.

Those who are on a prepayment metre will receive vouchers to the same value.

If you receive a text like these, do not click on the link and instead report it to trading standards via the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on freephone 0808 223 1133.

How can I spot a fraudulent text?

Norfolk Trading Standards said criminals are experts at creating spoof messages that then link to fake websites using official logos and branding of trusted organisations to trick you into taking urgent action without closer inspection.

“Residents are reminded that the Government support payments which are being made available will be automatically applied to energy accounts and you will not need to supply personal information to ‘apply’ for payments,” they warned.

If you didn’t initiate the conversation and you are asked to share private details, or if you are pressured into making decisions without being allowed to consult your family or friends, it is very likely that you are being scammed.

What happens if you fall victim to a scam?

If you happen to fall victim to an energy bill scam it is important that you change all of your online banking passwords as soon as possible, not just the ones that have been compromised.

Contact your bank or credit card company and make them aware of what’s happened and freeze or cancel your cards. Some banking apps will have a setting that allows you to do this quickly.

It’s important that afterwards you report the scam by calling Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.