Businesses and residents are being warned of a scam where fraudsters pose as bailiffs to demand money.
Adrian Lyon, a solicitor in the dispute resolution unit at Langleys Solicitors, recently advised a client who was targeted in this way.
“Bogus callers cause confusion and concern for victims, who are unlikely to be aware of the debt in question but will be eager to stop bailiffs from paying them a visit,” he said.
The scam starts with a telephone call from someone purporting to be a bailiff, who reveals they have a court warrant to visit the premises to collect payment or seize assets.
Even though they may be unaware of the debt, victims may believe it to be legitimate. Administrative or postal errors, for example, can mean that a business has no knowledge of a judgment until the bailiff calls.
The fraudster may give the amount of the debt, often several thousand pounds, and name the company to which it is owed. They tell the victim they are 20 minutes away from their premises and request payment over the telephone to avoid a visit in person.
A bogus telephone number may be provided for the victim to make payment to the court’s bailiff’s office. The fraudster may reassure the victim by saying the payment will be held in a client or escrow account, so the validity of the debt can be checked. Once payment has been made, the fraudster and money disappear.
Adrian said: “It’s worth familiarising yourself with the recognised protocol for genuine bailiffs. The usual procedure is to send a formal, written notice warning you that they will attend your premises at some point in the near future to enforce a court order.
“When they turn up, they will have the correct documentation including a copy of the court order along with the court claim number. They will also carry proper ID to verify they are genuine.
“The element of surprise is key for bailiffs. Why would they call to say they are 20 minutes away, giving you the opportunity to lock the doors and remove your possessions from the site?”
Adrian added: “If you are in any doubt as to whether the bailiff is genuine, do not pay a penny to them until you have satisfactory proof that they are genuine. The best way to do so is to see a court order showing the debt, obtain the court’s telephone number using an online search and then call the court to check.
“Any genuine bailiff will be happy for you to check the validity of the debt, as doing so helps them to do their job.”