|Trading standards officers tackle everything from fake goods to scams and enforce consumer related legislation. Photograph: Christopher Thomond|
Rogue telephone fraudsters are targeting older people with the offer of "energy saving devices" that could result in fire or electrocution.
The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) is dealing with more than 200 complaints about people who have claimed to be a victim's energy supplier, or working in partnership with them, and are offering a plug-in device costing £99 which they say can save users 40% on energy bills. But trading standards has had a number of the devices tested and found that they not only failed to satisfy electrical safety standards, but do not deliver any tangible energy savings.
Ron Gainsford, TSI chief executive, said: "Consumers are warned not to use the product as they pose a risk of fire and electrocution, and a safety recall has been issued for the items traced so far.
"Unscrupulous criminals are using the rising energy prices as an opportunity to lure cash strapped consumers – elderly people seem to have been deliberately targeted. The number of complaints we are currently dealing with is bound to be only the tip of the iceberg."
The City of Westminster Trading Standards Service has been investigating the scam as the caller gives a London W1 Oxford Street address for the company, but this belongs to a "virtual" office provider.
Sue Jones from Westminster trading standards said: "The companies involved in these scams are not actually situated there. We believe the call centre they use is based abroad and the appliances appear to be distributed by a number of individuals in the UK."
She said complainants had told trading standards the caller always appears to be very credible, already knowing a consumer's details, their energy supplier and sometimes some or all of the digits of their credit or debit card.
"Often consumers do not realise that they have been defrauded until they receive the dodgy looking device with instructions in broken English and the accompanying invoice which names an unknown supplier and often gives an American address," Jones said.
So far, four different suppliers have been named – 1 Stop Marketing Solutions, ITC Development Corp, Power Saver, and Athico Ltd – but the fraudsters could be operating under other names too. Some of these names could be very similar to genuine companies: for example, Power Saver Ltd based in Tonbridge, Kent, is not involved in this fraud.
The director of Athico Ltd appears to have been a victim of the scam himself. He fully co-operated with trading standards and the company has now ceased trading.
If consumers have responded to one of these cold calls they should report the matter via Action Fraud's website or call 0300 123 2040, or call Consumer Direct on 0845 404 0506. They should also contact their bank to stop their debit or credit card. If a device has been received they should not use it and dispose of it carefully.
The plugs involved have the model number SD 001 and are manufactured by MacroPlus, B1208 City Square, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China.
Trading standards said consumers should be cautious about giving out any personal or financial information. They should independently verify a caller's identity before agreeing to purchase any goods or services.