Saturday, November 21, 2009


Once upon a time there was an elderly woman (who we shall pretend was not my mother) who answered the phone to a plausible caller claiming to be conducting a security audit. Believing him to be from the local police and anxious to improve her home arrangements, this woman answered the caller's detailed questions and found herself agreeing to a home visit from a representative. To further sugar the arrangement, the visitor would bring the gift of a free shredder (!).

The appointment was fixed for yesterday afternoon at 4 p.m.

Naturally once the phone had been put down, the lady smelled a rat. She dialled 1471 to get the caller's number but BT's talking robot informed her that the number had been withheld. So she called the local police.

They were helpful and reassuring. Yes it was almost certainly a scam and no, he probably wouldn't come. Lock the door, put the chains on and don't answer.

As it happened, I was in Bristol yesterday to visit this lady and I was sure he would come around. If your business is conning your way into old people's homes to steal stuff, the business model does depend on making the home visits.

I arrived shortly after 2 p.m. and hatched a plan. When the 4 p.m. caller arrived I would ask for his business card (DNA evidence!) while filming him on my camera phone. If he made an excuse about not having a card on him ('They're at the printers, I ran out. Sorry mate!') I would hand him a pen and notepad and ask him to write the details so we could check (DNA again!).

I would then say we weren't interested and close the door. If he resisted - how could he get past the chains? - we would call the police and nab him red-handed.

As a plan, it seemed not only foolproof but also one with a high probability of obtaining a conviction. Our nervousness increased as we sat chatting in a desultory fashion, watching the clock approach 4 ... and pass it.

He never showed up.

Previously around 3 p.m. there had been a knock on the front door. I pulled it a scant three inches open on its chains to see a freckled youth in an Oxfam bomber jacket waving a collecting tin. Seeing the chains he did a big double take and said

"It's only Oxfam, mister. Not the gas or electricity!".

No doubt he regularly sees people in mortal fear of the debt collectors.

"Not today, thank you," I said and sent him on his way.