The owner of a St Neots hair salon has warned people to be on their guard against phoned scammers after she was tricked into handing over thousands of pounds to a man claiming to be a High Court sheriff. Jenny Tofts, 36, who runs Affinity in Park Way, Little Paxton, paid £4,000 to the man who called himself Jonathan Stevens after he threatened to send the bailiffs round to settle an unpaid bill.
Jenny, who lives in Navigation Wharf in St Neots, received the phone call at work on the morning of March 2 and admits she panicked.
“He sounded so convincing, and he seemed to know everything about me and my business,” she said.
He said I owed money for online advertising, and he was even sympathetic, saying it was the online company that was scamming people. He gave me a reference number and told me to check out two websites, which seemed to back up everything he was saying, and he said the case was being heard in Croydon that day and I had failed to turn up to the hearing.”
Jenny, who set up Affinity six years ago, was told if she didn’t pay £1,975 immediately, bailiffs would visit the salon that afternoon and start removing item. Jenny had previosuly agreed to buy some online advertising, and although she had paid her bill in full, she agreed to make the payment through a bank transfer.
But the matter didn’t end there, as 40 minutes later the man rang back and said her bank had recalled the payment and she would have to make the transfer again.
“I refused at first, but every time I came up with an objection, he seemed to have an answer. My accountant had all my paperwork and I couldn’t check anything so I just paid it.”
Later, when Jenny arrived home and spoke to her family she realised she had probably been duped and phoned her bank, The Halifax did refund the money in full and this particular phone scam has been traced to Lancastershire and Lancs police are now investigating. Jenny also took advice from Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre.
“I know a lot of people will think this can’t possibly happen to them, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I panicked because I had worked so hard to build the business up and I was frightened of losing it.”
Action Fraud advises people to be “extremely wary” of phone calls or emails that arrive “out of the blue”.
INFORMATION: If you need advice about fraud, contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or go to actionfraud.police.uk.