Keeping Fraudsters at bay
Public Meeting April 27th 2023
How people in Harpenden can protect themselves, their families and neighbours against the modern scourge of cheats and ‘scammers’, was a major theme of a public meeting convened by the Harpenden Society at the end of April, attended by over 40 Society members at Katherine Warington School.
Two experts professionally involved in the day-to-day protection of vulnerable individuals against 21st Century charlatans, spelled out in detail the many ruses employed by unscrupulous traders in trying to part people, typically older householders, from their money, through dishonest and shameless trickery.
Sue Shanahan from Hertfordshire Trading Standards pointed out that fraud perpetrated against private individuals was the UK’s fastest-growing type of crime, though regrettably the least reported in the media. She categorised ‘doorstep crime’ as being the most prevalent, typified by ‘cold callers’. They would often offer to rectify non-existent faults or damage.
Roofs, guttering and trees were favourites for the fraudsters’ attention, and whose condition many householders would be unlikely to have heeded but which could cause concern to the gullible. A verbal quote would be given, there on the doorstep, which was obviously ‘negotiable’, but which the rogue trader would try to use to metaphorically get his (or her) foot in the door. And one should always remember, pointed out Ms Shanahan, that what appeared at first sight to be a small job was likely, according to the ‘cowboy’ trader, to be blown up into a much larger, more costly and probably more unnecessary one.
Ms Shanahan made a number of doorstep scam-avoiding recommendations. If you can see who was ringing the doorbell and they were unfamiliar and/or suspicious in appearance, one shouldn’t even open the door. If a job needs doing on the house, rely on word-of-mouth recommendations from neighbours to find an honest and reliable trader.
Among the more obvious advice, as well as asking for a written quote, is never to pay first-time traders ‘up front’, even when asked for money to buy materials to start the job. One’s suspicions should also be raised should the individual insist on being paid in cash – a likely sign that the Exchequer is being deprived of some tax revenue.
Ideally one should consult one of the Trusted Trader websites to minimise the risk of being ‘ripped off’ or otherwise cheated by the many shameless individuals ready to take advantage of hapless, often elderly, householders.
‘Goods’ as well as ‘services’ come into the realm of doorstep fraud. Ms Shanahan brought to the attention of her audience what traditionally would have been classed as hawkers or pedlars, endeavouring to sell household items on the doorstep, for example dusters or ironing board covers, usually cheaper than in the shops. Such items might or might not ‘having fallen off the back of a lorry’, the seller being innocent or otherwise.
Such hucksters are likely to accompany their sales patter with a tale of woe, typically that they have recently come out of prison and are now wanting to go straight – a story which tends to subtly combine intimidation with invited sympathy. The advice therefore was to politely but firmly decline their bargain offers.
Ms Shanahan was supported at the Harpenden Society meeting by Daniel McManus, a staff member of Herts Constabulary, who outlined the work of the Neighbourhood Watch and OWL schemes, which come under the aegis of local police. There were, he said, five police offices across the county operating Neighbourhood Watch schemes, St Albans being one of ten districts. Over 170,000 households (34%) had signed up to receive cautionary OWL online messages about what was mainly petty, albeit serious, criminal activity and threats to individual safety. Others were encouraged to sign up for OWL alerts.
Citing Sir Robert Peel, father of Britain’s police some 200 years ago, Mr McManus said both schemes were aimed first and foremost at petty crime PREVENTION, through Crime and Safety Alerts and due diligence by householders. CrimeStoppers, ActionFraud, AgeUK, National Cyber Security Centre, Herts County Council and the NHS were among those bodies which interacted with the OWL scheme as partners in striving to thwart the criminals.
Straight Fraud: Lying on phone & bank frauds. Report to the Police via Action Fraud 0300 123 2040. or www.actionfraud.police.uk
OR If goods and services are involved ring Trading Standards via Citizens Advice 0808 223 1133