Avoiding Scams. Part 2

Regular readers of our column will recollect that my previous article dealt with avoiding mail scams and email scams and identity theft. This article deals with other scams and smart ways to protect yourself.

AT YOUR HOME: BOGUS CALLERS

Bogus callers are people who try to con their way into your home to steal from you or trick you out of money. They might pretend to be an official from your gas or electricity company, a sales person or a charity worker, or they might claim they are carrying out a survey. It may even be someone with a hard luck story asking to borrow a few pounds or to use your telephone in an emergency.

HOW CAN I AVOID BEING SCAMMED?

Remember, you do not have to let any stranger into your home. If you decide to answer the door, remember to take the following steps:-

* Lock – lock all of your other outer doors before you go to the front door. Some burglars work together – one keeps you chatting on the doorstep while another gets in through a back door.

* Stop – think about whether you are expecting anyone.

* Chain – put the door chain on (do not keep the chain on all the time as it will prevent anyone with a key, such as a home help, from entering). Look through the window or spyhole to see who is there.

* Check – ask for an identity card and examine it carefully. If you have seen identification, but are still unsure, check who they are by phoning the company they

represent. Get the number from a bill or your phone book rather than calling a number they give you as they could be putting you through to an accomplice. You can always ask the caller to come back at another time when someone will be with you or tell them to write to you to arrange an appointment. A genuine caller will not mind you taking these precautions. If you do not want to be disturbed by cold callers, consider putting a “no cold callers” sign on your door.

I NEED SOME HELP

If you are suspicious, or the caller will not leave, dial 999 and ask for the Police. If you do not feel you are in immediate danger but you want to report the incident, call the police on the non-emergency number 101.

MAKING THE RIGHT DECISION

TAKE YOUR TIME

A common feature of scams and sharp selling practices is the pressure on you to commit yourself very quickly. You may be told that an offer is only available for a limited period, or that by signing now you will get a discount on the usual price.

A genuine offer is unlikely to require you to make an instant decision. Do not let yourself be rushed. Take your time to decide whether the product or service, and the terms offered, are right for you. Do not sign anything until you are happy with.

TAKE ADVICE

Do not be afraid to take advice before making a decision to buy or invest. Be wary if you are told not to discuss the offer with anyone. Ask your family and friends what they think or, if you are thinking of investing, talk to an independent financial adviser. Having a website does not necessarily mean that a company is reputable even if there are customer testimonials. What do reviews on other websites say? Similarly, if you were talking to a sales person, do not take their claims at face value.

GET A RELIABLE RECOMMENDATION

If you need something done, you could ask neighbours and friends whether they can recommend someone or contact TrustMark to find someone reliable. The telephone number for TrustMark is 0333 555 1234. The email address is www.trustmark.org.uk.

If someone approaches you offering a service, you could phone the relevant Trade Association or look it up on the internet to see whether they are a member before you agree to them carrying out work for you. Some Trade Associations also offer advice on what to expect and questions to ask.

Get a written quote for the cost of the work and decide whether you think it is a fair price before you agree to it. It is a good idea to get two or three quotes from different people to help work out whether the price is fair. Talking to different companies can also help you learn more about key questions to ask about the quality of the work.

Be aware of the difference between an estimate and a quote. An estimate is a trader’s best guess at how much the job will cost. This means the trader can charge you more than this. A quote is a promise to do work at an agreed price.

Be cautious if you are asked for payment before you receive any products or services. In particular do not make cash payments to traders you do not know until you are sure the work has been carried out to your satisfaction. If you are being pressured to pay before then, contact family, friends, the Citizens Advice Consumer Service (telephone 03454 04 05 06) or the police. Never give your Bank details to people you do not know.

IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE – IT PROBABLY IS

Make sure you understand fully what an offer entails so you can make an informed decision. Do not be influenced by a low introductory cost for a service – ask yourself whether you really need it. Do you really want what is being offered or is the sales person just being persuasive or pushy?

Question claims made about products before buying them. Home demonstrations – for example of vacuum cleaners – may be designed to show the product to its best advantage. Research that appears to support claims made about food supplements or slimming aids may be selective or even invented.

CHECKING COMPANYS’ CREDENTIALS

Before you buy, make sure you have enough information about the seller. Do not hand over money or personal information before checking who you are dealing with. Check the following points:-

* Do they have a contact number that works? Be wary if it is for a mobile phone (numbers that begin “07”)

* Be cautious if the company uses only a PO Box number

* Is the company based overseas? If so, the usual consumer rights may not apply or could be very difficult to enforce.

* Is the company or individual properly regulated, or a member of a Trade Association?

* It is easy to have impressive business cards, stationery, brochures and websites. Do not judge by appearances alone.

* Can you find any independent information about the seller?

Even after checking, do not assume that this means someone is not a scammer. It is always best to get a reliable recommendation if you are buying a product or service.

ACTION

Busbys Solicitors offer a wide range of advice to clients. We have the hard-to-achieve Lexcel kitemark of the Law Society. Lexcel stands for “legal excellence” and is awarded after rigorous independent assessment. 98% of our clients rate us excellent or very good. So you can be confident that we will provide legal services of the highest order. Get in touch with us on 01288 35 9000.

Sharon Piper

Chartered Legal Executive

Full Professional Member of Solicitors for the Elderly

Busbys Solicitors

Bude & Holsworthy

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