Simply Energy hit with $2.5m fine after sales contractors allegedly impersonated customers in scam

An Australian energy company has been fined $2.5m after two external door-to-door sales agents allegedly used false names and made-up accents to switch customers to new contracts without their consent.

The Victorian essential services commission says it slapped Simply Energy with the record fine because the “rogue” agents’ alleged conduct “struck at the heart” of integrity in energy retailing.

Between July 2019 and April last year, the agents are alleged to have made $21,000 commission by transferring 525 gas and electricity accounts at 264 properties without the consent of the residents.

In plaas daarvan, the commission says the agents allegedly used a combination of real and falsified details to contact Simply Energy pretending to be customers authorising the transfers.

Simply Energy was then sluggish in investigating the complaints of customers who called them asking why they had been transferred despite never speaking to the retailer, the commission says.

One of the customers, Kerri Noy, from Botanic Ridge in Melbourne’s south-east, said she received a letter at her address from Simply Energy in late 2019 informing her of the impending transfer between energy retailers.

The letter had a different name on it, but the details inside included her electricity meter number, with a different driver’s licence number and date of birth.

When she called Simply Energy to complain, she says she was told she would have to contact the person who consented to the transfer.

But there was no person – one of the salesman had allegedly checked the meter number at the address, then falsified all other details, including calling Simply Energy pretending to be the customer to authorise the transfer.

“I was shocked to think it can happen so easily,” Noy said.

“We’re told to be aware of scams, but how can you be aware when you’ve not had any contact.

“We’re all really busy and we just kind of expect that our everyday matters like utilities take care of ourselves, but I’d just urge people that if you notice anything wrong say something.”

The Essential Services Commission chair, Kate Symons, said she had personally listened to some of the calls customers made to Simply Energy complaining about the transfers, and empathised with the stress and frustration the agents’ alleged conduct caused them, especially when the company failed to help them.

It remains unclear how the agents targeted properties, but Symons said the commission suspected that in some instances mail had been taken from addresses to assist in the transfers.

It is the third time the commission has fined Simply Energy. In 2019 it was fined $300,000 for switching customers without consent, en in 2018 it was fined $20,000 for transferring a customer who had an acquired brain injury without appropriate consent.

The commission has the power to deregister the provider but Symons said this action was not being considered.

A Simply Energy spokesperson said the company stopped using door-to-door sales agents in March last year.

“The two field sales agents [na bewering] involved in these matters led deliberate and sophisticated criminal frauds, circumventing our policies and controls, and are the subject of criminal proceedings.

“We have apologised to all affected customers, reversed and refunded any payments for fraudulent account transfers.”

Victoria police confirmed a 24-year-old man had been charged with one count of obtaining property by deception and one count of making a false document, and he was due to face court later this year.

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