Solar Panels Scam You've Been Scammed


Matt Allwright uncovers sophisticated scams. He meets an environmentally conscious 86-year-old whose faith in humanity has been tested.


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Transcript


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Each year almost half the population of Britain is targeted by a scam

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and the brains behind these scams are quick-thinking con men

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who know every trick in the book to get you to part with your cash.

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Coming up in today's programme...

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how a fraudulent solar panel company took advantage

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of one trusting 86-year-old, leaving his world in pieces.

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Their kindliness and friendliness

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is ruthlessly exploited by the scammers.

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And we hear about a will writing company that took

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more than their fee from the estates of the deceased.

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It was just devastating to think that there was somebody out there

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that could actually rob the dead.

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I'm here to tell you what the con man doesn't want you to know,

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how to stay one step ahead of the game and not get scammed.

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Something I've learned is that scam artists are always looking

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for the next bandwagon to jump on to.

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Case in point, renewable energy, solar panels, that sort of thing.

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Renewable energy is clean energy harnessed from sources

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like the sun and the wind.

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Stick solar panels on your roof or a wind turbine in your garden

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and you can generate your own electricity

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which is good for the environment, and can be good for your pocket.

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So it's no surprise that more and more people

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are keen to switch to renewable energy.

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Sadly, this has created an opportunity for fraudsters.

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Scammers are always looking to try and find the next best thing

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that consumers are interested in.

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I think solar panels is a classic example of that.

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Some scammers will look at the industry and try and hijack it.

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We're about to meet John, he's 86, a war hero,

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and he made a down payment to a company he found on the internet,

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for a solar panel.

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Seven months on, he still hasn't got it.

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-Hello, John, how are you? I'm Matt.

-You are Matt?

-I am Matt.

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-Do come in.

-Thank you very much.

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-So you were looking for electricity from these new panels.

-Yes.

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Why did you need that?

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Because I'm a bit of a nut about the environment.

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Don't waste water, save electricity if you can.

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The solar panels that John was interested in are called PV,

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or photovoltaic solar panels. They contain the technology

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to convert light from the sun into electricity.

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Wanting to find out more, he went onto the internet

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and soon came across a local company who supplied them.

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Registering his interest,

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it was only matter of days before a salesman popped round.

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Little did he realise, this would be a life-changing experience...

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and not in a good way.

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So, John, how did this company go about gaining your trust?

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The representative who came presented himself

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as an ex-bank manager, in the course of conversation.

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He was very pleasant.

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So I went ahead and took the bait, as it were.

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But signing up didn't just involve a signature,

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it involved money. The total cost of the project was agreed at £12,000

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but the salesman wanted an upfront payment.

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Consumers must be careful about paying too much money upfront.

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It might appear work is undertaken and the contract is going well,

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if you pay too much and the trader disappears

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and fails to come back, you will be out of pocket.

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How much was the initial down payment, John?

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£3,450.

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At this stage, John had no idea the people

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he was dealing with were anything other than professional.

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In fact, two workmen arrived on his doorstep a few days later.

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They went up in the attic,

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and spent a couple of hours up there.

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They came down and pointed out to me,

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a length of electric wire hanging down in my cupboard,

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in the hall, saying that it was all finished.

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The two men explained to John that all the electrics

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were now in place, ready for the solar panel installation

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and, of course, further payments would therefore be required.

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I gave them the second payment of 3,500.

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-OK, so you're nearly £7,000 down at this stage.

-6,950.

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Spot-on.

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The two men were so convincing that John had willingly paid

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more than half the cost of the £12,000 installation.

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As yet, not one solar panel had made it into his house,

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but John had no reason to believe that anything was wrong.

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Trading Standards find the elderly

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and vulnerable are particularly targeted by scams on the doorstep.

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They come from a trusting background,

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they don't like saying no, they don't like being rude.

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That kindliness and friendliness is ruthlessly exploited

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by the scammers.

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Having met John, I can tell you, he's no fool.

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He's even had experience working with criminals.

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Spending an incredible 31 years of his life

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working for the Prison Service,

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he was dedicated to helping rehabilitate prisoners.

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Why did you stick with it for so long?

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Well, I felt that I could and should help.

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These people, in my view, needed a second chance.

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With years of experience like that,

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you'd think John would know a criminal when he met one.

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The reality is that he was dealing with a very clever scammer.

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My nephew visited, and he went up into the attic,

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which I couldn't do,

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to see what had been done. He took several pictures.

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He discovered that all they had done, really,

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was to put a few lengths of wire, attached to the beams,

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running nowhere, connected to nothing.

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And left one hanging down in my cupboard as a final effort

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to persuade me the work had been completed.

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Feeling confused by the situation,

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John wanted to put a halt to things immediately.

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I didn't want anything else to do with the firm.

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I would rather have my money back.

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So John called one of the directors of the company,

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and they said they'd come out and assess the work,

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but John stood firm, and stated

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that he just wanted his money back,

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and that was the last time he spoke to them.

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He has been shielded by those that worked with him in the office.

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He was either off sick, out of the office,

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or on the phone or something.

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With help from his nephew, he did some research into the company,

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and discovered one of the directors had recently been barred

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from running a company for ten years.

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It came as no surprise

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when the company he'd been dealing with soon went into liquidation.

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John's lost nearly £7,000,

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but the damage is not just financial.

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The whole experience has left him feeling completely shocked

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and confused.

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It's, umm....

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-I'm sorry, I can't.

-It's OK.

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Do you want to take some time, John?

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It's a poor reflection... really, of mankind.

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We should be better than that.

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I'm sorry.

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I think that everybody watching this would agree with you.

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I think the people that we're dealing with here

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are a tiny minority,

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who can have a devastating effect on somebody like yourself.

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But I also think, John, that by doing this, hopefully,

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other people will be forewarned.

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I hope so.

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He's bringing nothing but misery to people. It's not the way to live.

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After falling for this scam, John has noticed a sharp increase

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in the number of cold calls he gets every day,

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with a variety of sales reps attempting

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to flog him their services.

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He even receives one before I leave.

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You're a claims management company?

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You're calling speculatively to find out if my friend has any loans

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or mortgages that are being paid off?

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I'm going to be very clear with you now, OK? You need to listen

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very carefully. Don't ever call this number again, do you understand?

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It's just such a shame that, at this time of your life,

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you've come into contact with one group of unscrupulous people

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that seem to have changed your outlook.

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I feel extremely sorry for anyone who is duped in the same way,

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very sorry.

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This certainly isn't the first time Trading Standards

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have dealt with a case like this, and it won't be the last.

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So you should be aware of what you can do to protect yourself.

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The best advice is not to just deal with one company,

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try and get quotations from three or four companies.

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If you're dealing with a reputable company,

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they shouldn't expect a big deposit upfront on that day.

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They'll give you time to think about it.

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They should send a surveyor to make sure your property's suitable

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for solar panels.

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If you feel obliged to pay some money, it's always worth considering

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using your credit card.

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You have protection under the Consumer Credit Act

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if things go wrong,

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so do try and make payment or partial payment using that method.

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Nobody likes thinking about writing a will,

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but it's essential so that our loved ones are provided for

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when we go.

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Choose the wrong will writer

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and you could end up providing for a lot of people you never intended to.

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There are many ways to write a will, including using solicitors,

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going online, and by using will writers.

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And there are many reputable will-writing companies,

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providing a host of benefits, such as advice on how to write a will,

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as well as the safe storage of your will.

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But frustratingly it's an area that is unregulated.

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This is very difficult for the public to actually understand

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and really identify whether the will writer they've got is someone who is

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a very proper person who is going to do a good job,

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or it is a person who is perhaps coming to the business

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from a completely different sector,

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hasn't done any training, hasn't got insurance.

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They still call themselves will writers.

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And sadly, having an unregulated industry can allow fraudsters

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the opportunity to come knocking, as far too many people find out.

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In 2006, Lincolnshire Police became aware of a firm

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that had jumped on the will-writing bandwagon,

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extracting thousands of pounds from innocent victims.

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This was just simple theft, it's as simple as that.

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It was all hidden away in quite a complex manner,

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but the nuts and bolts of it all is stealing, it's theft.

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Mary Neenan from Birmingham had been a close friend

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to an elderly gentleman called Bert Reeves.

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Helping to keep his house clean and tidy,

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she offered him a great deal of support

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over the last decade of his life.

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He became like my dad.

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My girls came with me when I went to see him.

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We had him here for his birthdays, we did birthday parties,

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so he became like my father and their grandad.

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Bert's wife had passed away some years before,

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and he didn't have any immediate family,

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so when he reached his 90s,

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he set about getting his affairs in order.

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Responding to an advert, Bert employed the services

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of the company Willmakers of Distinction Ltd

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to assist him in writing a will.

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He wanted to leave his estate to his niece, his neighbour

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and Mary, but he kept this a secret.

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Six months after Bert passed away,

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Mary was beginning to move on with her life.

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But then, out of the blue, she received a surprise phone call.

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That's when I discovered, when the solicitor that was selling the house

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was having problems selling it,

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that's when I discovered that I was a beneficiary.

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Without Mary's knowledge, Bert had left her nearly £40,000.

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But she'd had no contact from Willmakers of Distinction.

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Digging out their number, she left messages

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for a director, Nicholas Butcher.

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But she was getting no response.

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When I told Mr Butcher that I knew that I was a beneficiary,

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um, and all of that,

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then when I contacted him after I told him that, he never replied.

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And it wasn't long before Mary started having concerns.

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There was something going wrong, there was something not happening.

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Not getting any answers from Willmakers of Distinction,

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she had no option but to call the police.

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She was soon put in touch with Neil Hollingsworth

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from the Lincolnshire force.

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There was a guy, Nicholas Butcher. He'd been to prison and come out.

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We'd been given intelligence

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that he was working for Willmakers of Distinction Ltd,

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which is pretty much the area in which he'd committed criminality.

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So we'd had concerns, if I can say that.

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However, nothing ever came of it,

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but of course when we first get this report from the lady in Birmingham,

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that it's Willmakers of Distinction Ltd, we immediately think

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this is where Nicholas Butcher's working, so there were concerns.

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With Butcher's name ringing in his ears,

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Neil quickly went to visit Mary to try and piece together

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what happened in the lead-up to Bert's death.

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Mary told Neil about the day

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she discovered he'd decided to make a will.

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I let the gentleman into his house. When I discovered what he was doing,

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I thought, I don't want to be involved in this.

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This is his own personal, private business.

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So I left him to get on with doing the will.

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Mary headed upstairs to clean, giving Bert some privacy,

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and the will was signed and sealed.

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The advert in Bert's local paper was offering wills for just £19.99.

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If a company, a will-writing company,

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is offering knockdown-price wills for £20, £25,

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the question that must be asked is, how are they making money?

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They may want to try and sell extra products to boost up the price.

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Neil wanted to find out

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if Bert had parted with any more during his meeting

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and asked Mary if she remembered anything.

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He'd asked me to go and get some money from his safe,

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and that was... I brought him down over £200.

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It was obvious that Willmakers of Distinction

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had got Bert to sign up for more than just a basic will.

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So what exactly had he signed up to?

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They may want to be appointed as executors to control

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the assets once the person has died.

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That's exactly what happened.

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Once in his house, the salesman from Willmakers of Distinction

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had convinced Bert that he could rely on them to follow through

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with his last wishes.

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The reason he made them executors was not to trouble anybody else,

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and he put his full trust in this gentleman that done the will.

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Soon after, Bert became ill, and he passed the details

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of Willmakers of Distinction Ltd to Mary

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so she'd know who to phone upon his death.

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Sadly, a few months later, Bert was transferred into a care home,

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where he died.

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Mary still had no idea that she'd been written into his will,

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but doing the right thing, she informed people of his death.

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I contacted Willmakers of Distinction after I'd sorted out his funeral.

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And I spoke to a Mr Butcher.

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As Willmakers of Distinction were now in charge of Bert's estate,

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Nicholas Butcher soon arranged to meet Mary, to get hold of Bert's

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personal details, including his bank account information.

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We just went to the pub across the road and had lunch together.

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He seemed quite a nice gentleman.

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Throughout the lunch, the contents of Bert's will was never

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mentioned to Mary.

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Butcher took the details and quietly went on his way.

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Some months later, Mary received a call from the solicitor,

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informing her that Bert had left her a third of his estate...

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with an approximate value of £40,000.

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After leaving numerous messages for Nicholas Butcher

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and receiving no reply, Mary called the police.

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My problem was there was three people

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that were beneficiaries to a will,

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and that the amount of money that we would have all received

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would have been a life-changing amount of money for all of us.

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Neil was shocked but not surprised to hear that

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Bert's money had vanished.

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He wanted to find out where Bert's money was and why it hadn't yet

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been given to his chosen beneficiaries.

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Hoping to get some quick answers, he headed straight for

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the offices of Willmakers of Distinction Ltd.

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I was hoping to rather find that it was still there, and that there

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was an easy explanation for all of this, of course.

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The point is, when I got there, it was just locked doors.

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Neil had quickly discovered that the bird had flown.

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The building was now a building site

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but there were still signs of the business left behind.

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They occupied this whole building here, the reception area.

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They employed about 20 people here,

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a bank of telephonists, a bank of will drafters,

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as well as Mr Nash and Mr Butcher.

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After discovering that the premises were completely empty,

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Neil researched the company further and discovered

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Mary's worst nightmare.

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Willmakers of Distinction had gone into liquidation,

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and there were other cases as well as my own.

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So the next port of call for Neil was to interview the liquidators.

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They confirmed that they had not been satisfied

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with the reasons for the liquidation.

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So, Neil set about finding out exactly who was behind this company.

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I knew of Nicholas Butcher. It became apparent the man in charge

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was David Nash.

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David Nash was a well-known businessman

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and former Lincoln City Football Club vice-president.

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Searching for further background information on the company,

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Neil paid a visit to their accountant, who had some growing

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concerns about the state of their accounts.

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Taking Neil through the accounts step by step,

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he was able to see how much money each person had in their estate.

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But there was something that didn't add up.

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Large, round-figure amounts

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were being transferred from the supposedly safe trustee account

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into the day-to-day bank account of Willmakers of Distinction.

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All these entries in yellow, 2,000, 10,000, and it goes on and on,

0:20:470:20:53

on every page of this document, you can see these monies going in.

0:20:530:20:58

Neil could see something was very wrong and needed further answers.

0:20:580:21:02

So, he set out to uncover the wills relating to all the estates

0:21:020:21:06

on the accountant's list.

0:21:060:21:08

Meanwhile, Mary had managed to get hold of David Nash's mobile number.

0:21:080:21:13

She wanted the answer to one question - where was Bert's money?

0:21:130:21:17

He said not to be stupid,

0:21:170:21:21

that those companies had insurance, everybody would get money,

0:21:210:21:26

Mary was simply being sold yet another lie.

0:21:260:21:31

However, Neil was starting to make some progress.

0:21:310:21:34

Having recovered the wills from the probate office,

0:21:340:21:39

we then start contacting beneficiaries

0:21:390:21:42

to see if they've been paid out,

0:21:420:21:43

and there was a story to be told in each one.

0:21:430:21:45

Going through each estate using the accountant's spreadsheet,

0:21:460:21:50

Neil could clearly see

0:21:500:21:52

that money due to people quite simply hadn't been handed over.

0:21:520:21:56

Through the liquidators, Neil saw that Willmakers of Distinction Ltd

0:21:560:22:00

had operated a franchise.

0:22:000:22:03

David Nash had sold the rights

0:22:030:22:05

to trade under the Willmakers of Distinction name.

0:22:050:22:09

Neil managed to track down details of one of the franchise owners,

0:22:090:22:12

who shed further light on the business.

0:22:120:22:15

One other area of criminality we've discovered

0:22:180:22:20

is that they were selling pre-paid funerals.

0:22:200:22:23

People would pay the money, £1,200, £1,500 for a funeral,

0:22:230:22:28

and then they didn't go on and buy these funerals from the companies

0:22:280:22:33

they were brokering for, they pocketed the money.

0:22:330:22:35

With a mountain of detailed evidence,

0:22:350:22:38

it was finally time for Neil to arrest David Nash.

0:22:380:22:42

We arrested David Nash at his home address, and we searched it.

0:22:450:22:48

In the course of searching it

0:22:480:22:51

we found various papers.

0:22:510:22:52

In amongst those papers,

0:22:520:22:54

there was the will for one of the estates they'd been managing.

0:22:540:22:58

But all the paperwork for it was sat in his garage, in a cardboard box.

0:22:580:23:03

With all the evidence in place, Neil contacted Mary with the news.

0:23:030:23:08

Then when I spoke to the police

0:23:080:23:10

they said there were several cases and they were taking them to court.

0:23:100:23:13

That's when I realised that was the end.

0:23:130:23:17

But even after all the evidence was presented to Nash,

0:23:170:23:21

he still tried to tough it out.

0:23:210:23:23

He was adamant that he was innocent.

0:23:240:23:27

However, about a month before the trial was set, he did plead guilty.

0:23:270:23:32

David Nash was convicted of six counts of theft

0:23:320:23:35

and three counts of fraudulent trading.

0:23:350:23:37

He received three-and-a-half years.

0:23:370:23:40

One down, one to go.

0:23:420:23:44

It didn't take long before Neil tracked down Nicholas Butcher

0:23:440:23:47

and brought him in for questioning.

0:23:470:23:51

He went down the same route as Nash, at first claiming his innocence,

0:23:510:23:54

and then changing his plea to guilty on the day of his trial.

0:23:540:23:59

Butcher also got three-and-a-half years.

0:23:590:24:02

He was convicted of the thefts and the fraudulent tradings

0:24:020:24:05

and serves a maximum of three-and-a-half years.

0:24:050:24:08

At last the men who had conned over £400,000 of cash from customers

0:24:080:24:13

were facing jail.

0:24:130:24:16

We are at the stage

0:24:160:24:18

where we've confiscated assets following the convictions.

0:24:180:24:21

We took £50,000-odd from Mr Nash.

0:24:210:24:24

We didn't get an awful lot from Mr Butcher

0:24:240:24:27

because he didn't have an awful lot.

0:24:270:24:29

We took £2,000-odd off him.

0:24:290:24:31

Mary, who was due to receive approximately £40,000,

0:24:320:24:35

won't get anything,

0:24:350:24:37

apart from a degree of satisfaction.

0:24:370:24:40

I'm absolutely delighted, but I didn't think they got enough time.

0:24:400:24:45

Three-and-a-half years just wasn't enough for what they'd done.

0:24:450:24:49

If you're concerned about getting caught up in a similar scam,

0:24:490:24:52

there are things you can do to help protect yourself.

0:24:520:24:56

At the moment,

0:24:560:24:57

the safest course of action must be to go to a solicitor,

0:24:570:25:00

who is regulated and will offer the protection.

0:25:000:25:04

For further advice on how to protect yourselves against scams,

0:25:040:25:08

go to the website -

0:25:080:25:10

Before we go, there's just time to tell you

0:25:190:25:23

about the latest scams out there.

0:25:230:25:25

I've come to meet an expert from the National Fraud Authority,

0:25:250:25:29

to get the lowdown on what you should be watching out for.

0:25:290:25:32

Today, we're looking at scams that happen via your e-mail.

0:25:320:25:35

A lot of people out there will have received an e-mail, usually,

0:25:400:25:45

from a nice gentleman saying that he's got a lot of money for them,

0:25:450:25:49

if they'll help him out.

0:25:490:25:51

We are talking astronomical sums. Millions and millions and millions.

0:25:510:25:55

-That's what they hook you in with.

-How much could you lose?

0:25:550:25:58

You could pay lots of transactions

0:25:580:26:01

amounting to thousands of pounds and end up with nothing.

0:26:010:26:05

So, always be on your guard,

0:26:050:26:07

be sceptical of people contacting you out of the blue

0:26:070:26:11

asking for money.

0:26:110:26:12

And don't believe the promise of large sums of cash.

0:26:120:26:16

Next, another e-mail scam.

0:26:160:26:18

This time it's someone pretending to be your bank.

0:26:180:26:22

They will be asking for your personal finance details, your passwords,

0:26:220:26:27

your credit card details, that sort of thing,

0:26:270:26:29

trying to get you to give your details to the fraudsters

0:26:290:26:33

so they can enter your bank account.

0:26:330:26:35

Why do people go for it?

0:26:350:26:37

It just looks so good,

0:26:370:26:39

Banks never ask for your account details or passwords via e-mail.

0:26:390:26:45

Don't hand them out.

0:26:450:26:46

If you're ever unsure, contact your bank directly.

0:26:460:26:49

It doesn't matter how clever the scam is,

0:26:510:26:54

if you recognise the signs, you'll always be one step ahead.

0:26:540:26:58

Stay safe. See you next time.

0:26:580:27:00

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:27:180:27:20

Matt goes to see 86-year-old John, who wanted to do his bit for the environment by installing solar panels on his roof. But after handing over thousands of pounds to conmen, John's faith in people has been severely tested. Plus the will-writing conmen who were banged up after stealing from the dead, and the scams you should look out for in your email inbox.