Many people, particularly trusting older folk, believe that the personal approach of a telephone call cannot possibly mean that the sincere-sounding voice on the end of the line is trying to con them out of their hard-earned money.
Sadly, all too often, that is exactly what is being attempted and, as part of this year’s Scams Awareness Month, running throughout July, Croydon Council’s trading standards team is working to alert residents to the ways in which these heartless conmen go about their criminal business.
The slogan for this year’s campaign is “Don’t be rushed, don’t be hushed”, and its aim is to warn consumers about being rushed by scammers, and refusing to be hushed into silence by a sense of shame, foolhardiness or weary acceptance.
Working in partnership with the Citizens’ Advice Service, the team will be focusing, on a week-by-week basis, on different types of scams, and providing real-life case studies of incidents that have happened to Croydon residents.
The focus for the first of the four weeks of the campaign is on telephone scams and concerns a recent incident in Shirley.
An elderly householder received a telephone call purporting to be from a US-based organisation, referring to a competition that she had previously entered.
She was told that she had won £90,000, and it would be delivered to her by a courier once customs had been cleared. A second call from a person claiming to be a customs officer in the USA, told her to expect a call from UK customs.
She then received a call from somebody claiming he was from HMRC who told her that, ordinarily, she would have to pay 2% of the winnings up front in cash to clear customs, but that this figure could be reduced to 0.3% as she was drawing the state pension.
Upon instruction, she sent a cheque for £1,800 to an Essex address. She then received another call from a person claiming to be the gaming commissioner from the USA, who told her that the runner-up in the competition had been disqualified and that she was now entitled to £200,000.
However, to claim the enhanced prize she needed to pay a further £5,000. Convinced she was about to receive enough money to secure a comfortable lifestyle in retirement, she sent the requested cheque to the Essex address.
Realisation that she might have been scammed came when she dialled the UK telephone number she had been given, and the number was not recognised.
Initial enquiries by council trading standards officers have revealed that the Essex address is that of another known victim. Enquiries are ongoing.
Councillor Mark Watson, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice
“This very sad case is just one example of a telephone scam. There are many variations, but the aim of all of them is the same as any scam – to part consumers from their hard-earned cash.
“Everybody should beware telephone calls from strangers promising large prize wins. If you have a suspicion that it might be somebody trying to scam you, explain that you are going to hang up and ask them to call back at a later time when you will have a family member or a friend with you.
“Alternatively, you can call our trading standards team and they’ll be able to give you the best advice.”
If you have been scammed, report it to Action Fraud at www.actionfraud.police.uk/ or by calling 0300 123 2040 to help stop it happening to others.
For more information, visit Citizens Advice Consumer Service at www.adviceguide.org.uk or contact Croydon’s trading standards team on 020 8407 1311.
Next week’s focus will be on online scams.
Look out for scams publicity, displays and talks in the borough throughout July.