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Utility fraud facts and dangers – how to spot and avoid a scam

Utility fraud facts and dangers – how to spot and avoid a scam

Utility fraud comes in all shapes and sizes. From gas or electricity meter fraud to supplier fraud, it’s important to know how to spot and avoid a scam so that you don’t become a victim of a crime.

What is utility fraud?

Utility fraud – or utility theft – is when someone falsely uses a person’s name or identity to order water, gas, cable or other types of services and gain personal information.

When a meter reader or installer visits your property, you must verify their identity. They should carry visible identification such as a badge and often wear the uniform of your supplier. If you’re concerned, don’t hesitate to check their identity with the company.

When you receive a call from your supplier, always be cautious before giving any personal information away. Don’t be afraid to ask questions for them to verify their identity.

When you receive an email from your supplier, it should never request your personal bank details, otherwise previously arranged. Where appropriate, the supplier will always include your reference number.

Gas meter fraud

A gas meter outside and against a red wall. Gas meters are often at the core of utility fraud.

Meter fraud doesn’t save money. It costs lives

Gas meter fraud is a form of crime that occurs in businesses and homes across the UK. Stay Energy Safe, an organisation powered by CrimeStoppers to aid victims of Energy Theft highlights that the UK energy industry suffers a whopping estimate of £500 million worth of gas and electricity being stolen every year. They predict this to be a loss that adds around £20 to every honest customer’s bill. It’s an industry-wide issue and more than 15,000 cases are investigated every year. Still, many people are not aware of the potential risks that can arise from utility fraud.

What is gas meter fraud?

Gas meter fraud, also known as gas meter cheating, involves sidestepping or falsifying the gas meter so that it doesn’t record the true amount of gas being consumed. Tampering with the meter is effectively cheating the meter as it gives false results so that you pay less (or nothing) for gas usage.

While other types of fraud, including finance, identity and credit card fraud, are more widely known, utility fraud is a common criminal act that must not be ignored. Disrupting the meter means the correct amount of energy is not being recorded properly and the user is therefore charged wrongly as a result.

How is gas meter fraud done?

Energy fraud criminals meddle with gas meters, usually by tampering with the wires and connectors to bypass meters and breaking off the teeth from the cogs to manipulate the readings. They also commonly use hosepipes and bicycle inner tubes to “fix” gas meters which will undoubtedly result in a leak.

More sophisticated methods include using a smartphone to reverse a meter or installing a spare meter to run in between the energy supplier’s readings.

Man taking down a gas meter reading on a notepad. It is important to check who is reading your meter to avoid utility fraud.

The penalty for tampering with a gas meter

Gas meter fraud is a form of crime that occurs in businesses and homes across the UK. Tampering with a gas meter or trying to bypass the gas meter completely to save money is illegal and extremely dangerous. It is a type of gas theft that can lead to huge fines or even prison sentence.

Why do people carry out gas meter fraud?

People steal energy to get cheaper bills and to avoid paying for their actual usage. The energy industry estimated that a whopping £500 million worth of gas and electricity is stolen each year in the UK, which adds around £20 to every honest customer’s energy bill. So not only are these criminals stealing energy, they are also stealing our money too.

The risks of gas meter fraud

Gas meter fraud is one of the most serious scams in the UK. It can result in your gas being cut off, leaving you with no hot water or heating and being forced to pay back what you owe.

But more seriously, interfering with something as explosive and flammable as natural gas is a significant danger. While the act is perceived as a victimless crime, it can cause huge damage to the people and building involved.

Meddling with gas meters is highly dangerous as it damages the gas supply and can lead to a gas leak. If you smoke or have a fire in your home, then there is an increased risk of explosion or fire.

House fires

As fumes accumulate in a room, they displace the air, leading to headaches or even worse, loss of consciousness. Leaking gas is highly flammable and can be easily ignited. If gas leaks, all it takes is just one spark to cause a fire.


If vast amounts of gas escape a meddled meter, they can accumulate in the air throughout the property. This can cause the whole building to explode with the equivalent devastating impact of a bomb.

Four blue flames on each position of the gas cooker.

Utility fraud: What to look out for

While intervening with a gas meter may cause a leak which you can smell, there are some less obvious things to look out for:

  • The gas flames on the hob or gas fire have changed size
  • The gas produces a more yellow flame than blue
  • Pilot lights frequently go out

But often, there are no signs at all until a catastrophic explosion.

How to tell if your gas meter has been cheated

  • The meter has been turned the wrong way round so you can’t see the dials
  • There is no visible dial or counter on the meter
  • Odd wires or pipes are out of place by meters are appliances
  • The prepayment meter is still working, despite being out of credit
  • Landlords are denying you access to your meter
  • The meter shows credit has run out but there is gas still available
  • You can smell gas near the meter box
  • There are bits of rubber tubing in place of pipes
  • The dials on the meter aren’t moving around even when gas is being consumed

How to report gas theft

If you believe someone is stealing gas, or electricity, or that you’ve been the subject of a utility scam, you must report it as soon as possible. You can also report the crime to the UK Revenue Protection Association (UKRPA) but you must be able to give a full address for the suspected tampering for them to be able to investigate.

You should also contact your energy supplier to explain the alleged crime.

Electricity meter fraud

A new spherical electricity meter on the side of a brick house which can be the subject of utility fraud.

Like gas meter fraud, electricity meter cheating involves tampering with the meter so that it doesn’t record how much electricity is being consumed.

The penalty for tampering with an electricity meter

This is electricity theft and can lead to a fine or imprisonment. According to the Law Times Journal, under section 135 of the Electricity Act: “Any person who dishonestly taps a meter, tampers with the meter, damages or destroys the meter, uses electricity through a tampered meter or uses electricity for unauthorised purposes shall be liable for punishment of up to 3 years in prison or with a fine, or both.”

The risk of electricity meter theft

Electrical fires

Exposed wires and connections can get that hot that they can cause fires. This not only puts the property at risk but also those living in or nearby.

Severe burns or electric shocks

Tampering with wiring can make switches to appliances ‘live’ to the touch or overheat or malfunction. It risks electric shocks or burns to anyone using them.

Utility fraud: What to look out for in your property

  • Shocks from switches
  • Burns from appliances
  • Sudden fires and even explosions
Man's finger over a metallic silver light switch which can indicate utility fraud if it electrocutes you.

How to tell if your electricity meter has been cheated

  • Damaged or no casing to meter
  • Disconnected cables
  • Extra wires sticking out or wrapped around
  • Plastic casing melted or burn marks on meter
  • Meter shows no credit but electricity is still available
  • Meter dials aren’t moving even though electricity is being used
  • Burning smell or sparks near meter box

I haven’t got access to my meter – how can I check it?

You should be able to access your gas or electricity meter. If you need a key, you should speak to your landlord, letting agent or local council housing department.

If you’re worried about a burning smell coming from where the meter is located, hot wires or flickering lights, you must call your local network operator straight away. They will arrange an emergency appointment and come out as soon as possible.

Will a smart meter avoid utility fraud?

A smart meter can still be tampered with which can be unsafe. If you suspect that your smart meter has been subject to utility fraud, you must report it to your supplier and the authorities right away.

If you’re looking for a new gas, electricity, or meter connection, disconnection, alternation, diversion, or removal for your home or business, contact our team today. Call 0330 158 8302.

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