Will Writing Scam You've Been Scammed


Matt Allwright uncovers the secrets of sophisticated scams. Matt meets Terry and Pauline, who were exploited by merciless conmen when they decided to make a will.


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Transcript


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Every year con men and scam artists net an estimated £3.5 billion from you and I,

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the British public. They don't care how they do it - or how much damage they cause.

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They only really care about one thing -

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that's how much cash they can get.

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'Coming up... Where there's a will, there's a way - especially if you're a scam artist.'

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-What do you make of what he did now, knowing what you know?

-I feel I could strangle him.

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And the ruthless con man who targeted elderly women.

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I remember the case in 1998, and the front page of the local paper

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where John Davies was referred to as the most evil man in North Wales.

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I'm here to tell you what the con men don't want you to know -

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so you can stay ahead of the game and not get scammed.

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You work hard all your life to provide for your family.

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You want to make sure that they're looked after,

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but it doesn't put off the inevitable, and that is why you write a will.

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You want to make sure your house, your possessions...it all goes to the people you love and care for.

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Death is a taboo, and something we don't like to talk about,

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so when it comes to planning what happens after you die,

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scammers can use this reluctance to their advantage

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and fleece you of your money.

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What they want is to intimidate you, to control the situation

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and make sure that you sign the documentation there and then.

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Preferably a cheque - or even better, if they can get it from you, cash - for the services.

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They are not necessarily going to deliver those services,

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or they may actually only give you an incompetent document.

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56% of people in the UK haven't made a will,

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so there's no shortage of potential targets.

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And with no laws to prevent anybody from setting themselves up

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as a will writing company, it can be dangerous territory.

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Solicitor Helen Clarke has seen many people come through her doors after being caught out.

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Not all will writers are dishonest or incompetent,

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but it is an unregulated market.

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These people are not qualified. They're not legally trained.

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The fact that a will writer has a logo at the top of their pieces of paper,

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or a number of letters after their name,

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really doesn't mean anything.

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And when people do decide to write a will,

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they often go for what looks like the easiest option.

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Terry and Pauline Ash, along with their daughter Wendy,

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run a mail order firm from their home.

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The family has had a bad experience with a salesman.

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All three of them have been left confused,

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and in order to get a clear picture of what's happened, I'm chatting to them separately.

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In his workshop, Terry's been telling me what made them decide

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that now was the time to write a will.

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I think Pauline was a bit worried because

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I had been diagnosed probably six months earlier

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that I had a small touch of prostate glands cancer.

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And although they said I had a fairly good 15 years to go yet before I needed to worry,

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I think it worried her quite a lot.

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-So it's those little things that send alarm bells.

-Yeah.

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'This realisation that they needed a will meant they'd now become a target.'

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Pauline and Wendy were out shopping when they found

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a will writing company advertising in a well-known high street chemist.

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This is why we thought it was authentic.

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They had a big billboard, and they had professional-looking leaflets.

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So we gave our name and address and just waited for the call.

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Within days the company got in touch, and an appointment was made

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for an adviser to come round and see the three of them.

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We thought, that's good - in the comfort of your own home

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you can list down where you want your bits and pieces to go,

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and it just seemed ideal.

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But Pauline, a home visit presents the scammer

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with an ideal opportunity to manipulate the situation.

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Many people fear actually making a will.

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And so when you are in that state of anxiety,

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it is very easy to be exploited, to be persuaded.

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What do you make of the guy, straight away when he walks in the door?

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A big fella, dripping in gold.

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He went straight into the patter - "You've got a lot of property here -

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"if one of you should feel ill and need nursing home treatment,

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"you could end up with having this taken off of you by the Council to pay for it."

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Then he went on to say about his wife dying of cancer,

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and so of course we were very sympathetic with it,

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and how much it cost for her to go into a nursing home.

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So that was the theme he was on.

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-So that had a bit of resonance?

-Yeah, I wanted to get something done.

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Then he dropped in the price of £950.

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For the £950, he said he'd set up a property trust

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that would protect them from having to sell hearth and home

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to cover any future nursing care.

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He then offered to set up for Wendy to have

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power of attorney, in case her parents' mental health declined.

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Bang, another £250.

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Almost like that, you were up to over £1,000.

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-Exactly.

-He's just sold us other services

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before he's even mentioned the wills...

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Oh, yeah, we mustn't forget the wills.

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You know - what he actually came for in the first place...?

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So far, our silver-tongued salesman had given the family

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a bill of over £1,000 to pay between them.

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He drafted out the wills at a cost of £47 each. Done? Not quite.

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There was an additional fee of £25 apiece to store the wills.

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After all, "you wouldn't want them lying around the house, would you?"

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So - the total that the family would now have to pay...

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All this, after only being with our man for two hours.

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-You've gone to over £1,000...

-I know. It's unbelievable, isn't it?

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-How did he get away with that?

-Smoke screen...? I don't know.

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Whatever it was, it was done very slick.

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"You can come back and you can alter it any point of time..."

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And of course we're sitting there doing the nodding dog...

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Your main objective, if you were trying to con somebody would be to

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get in, to get either a cheque from them or some money from them,

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and to be able to get out as quickly as possible.

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I said, "I can't afford £1,094, three cheques.

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"I'll take one now for £494 - two post-dated cheques for £600."

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'Wendy also handed over HER cheque for £322.'

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There was no urgency to pay there and then - you could have

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had as long as you want to say, "We've checked into it, it all looks fine.

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-"You hand me the documents, I'll hand you the money".

-Yes,

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we could have done. With afterthought.

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A big word, "afterthought".

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The con artist left clutching the family's cheques.

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Unsurprisingly, he didn't hold on to them for long.

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The next day, those cheques were cashed.

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-All three?

-Not the two post-dated - but her cheque, my cheque.

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-OK.

-He'd banked it so quick, I said, "This is bad." You don't do that.

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'They were starting to fear something was very wrong.'

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This was the only paper he gave us.

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At the bottom there's a Canterbury number,

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so I phoned up and I said,

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"This chap came round and didn't leave us any paperwork."

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She said, "I'll make sure he gets it to you." Nothing.

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"Can you get somebody to phone me and tell me what we've bought?"

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Nothing.

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I said, "We're coming down.

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"There must be a solicitor somewhere in your building."

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"No, we're just a call centre. We just take messages."

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It dawned on the family they had given the cash to a company

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with no actual address they could directly ring or physically visit,

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and they had nothing to show for their money.

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So, back to the Trading Standards.

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She said, "I don't like the sound of this -

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"you know you can go for court action?"

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After starting court proceedings, they had to wait a fortnight for the company's reply.

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When it came, it was shocking.

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They did have the front, didn't they, to counterclaim.

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When we took them to court, they counterclaimed.

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-We - I - owe them £400.

-For what?

-Exactly. What, profits?

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After receiving no paperwork of any kind,

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the family had sensibly cancelled the post-dated cheques

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and now the company were claiming they were owed the money.

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It seems ludicrous,

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but crooks will sometimes use the court system to their advantage.

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Two reasons - one, it can scare off those claiming against them,

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and second, the process of claim and counterclaim can be lengthy,

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He said at the time that he was a member of the Institute of Willwriters.

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When I rang the Institute of Willwriters up -

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"No, they're not a member."

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They met the salesman a few months back, but the family has

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only recently had its first direct contact from the company.

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Wendy gets a letter two weeks ago from them.

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The only letter ever to have ever plopped through the door,

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saying they're moving,

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they're moving address up to Essex.

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Yeah - "As from the 1st June, our new address, e-mail as above.

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"Any future correspondence should be sent to the address.

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"If I can be of any further assistance to you,

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"please do not hesitate to contact me"(!)

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We checked that address out. There is a business centre there,

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but it's only a business messaging address.

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-There's no...

-The same as the other one.

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Yeah, there's no physical address there at all.

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-Can I paint a picture for you?

-Yeah.

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What I think it's more likely that we're dealing with, is someone

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who operates from their own home.

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It may even be the guy you met - who probably isn't using his real name.

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And he's sending all the letters out himself,

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he's using mailing addresses rather than real physical addresses,

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so he can hide where he genuinely is operating from -

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and he comes out, he takes money from you,

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he leaves you with meaningless documents,

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and when things become a bit sticky and people start complaining

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and taking out court cases against him, he moves on.

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He changes the name of his company,

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he moves on, and does the same thing over and over again.

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I think, just from my experience - and I'm not a policeman,

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I'm not a lawyer - I think that's what we're dealing with here.

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'Despite cancelling the post-dated cheques,

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'the family are having to face up to the harsh truth

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'that between them, they've been conned out of £816.'

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-Do you think you ever stand a chance of getting your money?

-No.

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I think it's gone.

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I cannot see why it happened.

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It seemed so bona fide in the beginning -

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but to be ripped off like that...

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-I just feel so gullible.

-You do, don't you?

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Yeah, I feel so gullible. And I can't believe, if we've taken them

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-to court, that we're not going to get anything back.

-No.

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And I thought, well, at least one thing,

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she did do two post-dated cheques which we stopped...

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But it still leaves a sour taste in your mouth that you've been

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scammed out of hard-earned cash.

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You think, "Where are my brains?"

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What do you make of what he did now, knowing what you know?

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What I know now...

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I feel I could strangle him if I could get hold of him.

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So when there are unscrupulous companies out there who just

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want to steal from you, what's the best way to go about getting

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your affairs in order and getting that peace of mind?

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As a solicitor, I would say go and see a solicitor.

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I would also encourage you to get a recommendation -

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so ask amongst your friends, your work colleagues.

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One advantage of using a solicitor over some will writing firms

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is that your documents are protected by law even if they go bust.

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They can't be just abandoned on a rubbish heap, or left to be

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stored in a barn - and both of those are examples that I know of.

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As a possibly cheaper alternative, there are plenty of reputable

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will-writing companies around, if look carefully.

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It's worth considering how long this business has been established,

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so if you receive a leaflet through the door or in a supermarket,

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is it going to be around in three, five years' time?

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And before handing over any money,

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make sure you know what you're paying for.

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Ask for a quote. So if you're asking for a will,

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ask for a specific quote as to how much it is going to cost.

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Always make sure that you have something in writing to tell you

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what you are committing to.

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The Ash family are continuing their court action

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to chase down the company that conned them.

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They don't want the same thing to happen to others.

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Will-writing scams are so hot right now,

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and here is what I think makes them despicable.

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They operate on people at their lowest point,

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when they're worried about their families

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and what's going to happen to them after they're gone.

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None of the victims of these scams are trying to get rich quick -

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they're just trying to buy a little bit of peace of mind,

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and to take advantage of that is unforgivable.

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Now for the story of a very different kind of scam.

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With the huge number of people who now use the internet,

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and the vast array of online scams that are out there,

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it's sometimes easy to forget that there are still people who do it

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the old-fashioned way - by getting on the phone

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or knocking on your door.

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It's December 2010, and at Mold Crown Court in North Wales

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a builder and his accomplice are about to go on trial.

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They stand accused of scamming elderly women out of over £100,000.

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Sadly, all of the women targeted by the couple

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were very upset by the experience, and can't talk about what happened to them.

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One of the women was Sylvia, a quiet pensioner who lived alone

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in this smart bungalow near the North Wales coast.

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Nicola is Sylvia's neighbour.

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She moved back here after her husband died.

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She was 72, and she didn't know anybody in the village.

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But one day Sylvia had a knock on the door from a man called

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John Davies, who claimed to be a builder.

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The first thing we saw him doing was the flat roof on the garage.

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He seemed to be doing a bodge job,

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but she was adamant the work needed doing.

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Nicola didn't like what she saw,

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and was concerned that Davies was taking advantage of Sylvia.

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My husband had been round to see Sylvia, to see if she was OK.

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She said she was, she said it was work that needed to be done.

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And we went a few more times, but she was adamant that everything was fine.

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Sylvia paid Davies for the work on the garage roof,

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but it wasn't long before he was back again.

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As time went on, he started doing more and more jobs.

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Taking the greenhouse down, laying stones over the lawn.

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The work appeared to be bodged and unfinished,

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yet Davies was charging Sylvia large sums of money.

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Cheques varying from £1,000, £2,000 and up.

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And we were really surprised

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because, for the work he'd done,

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how much he'd actually taken off her,

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knowing that a few stones for the garden,

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with no prep work, doesn't cost that much money.

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Nicola could see it was taking its toll on Sylvia.

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You'd go around and there'd be no food in the house,

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so you'd have to take food.

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And this was just her way of thinking then -

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"He's taken all my money and I haven't got any."

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But Sylvia wasn't alone.

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Margaret's elderly neighbour, Noreen,

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lived alone in a chalet in north-west Wales

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and was also targeted by Davies.

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Noreen had was happy there on her own. She had her books,

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she used to read loads and loads of books in her garden.

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And then John Davies appeared on the scene.

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Again, it seems it began with a knock at the door.

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The first thing he did was repair her roof,

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but then he was supposed to be doing other jobs,

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keeping the chalet in good order.

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But instead, Davies charged Noreen thousands of pounds

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for bodged-up work.

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She accepted everything that he said to her

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and never questioned anything.

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And for Davies, it was like having a blank cheque.

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Gradually, he seemed to worm his way in.

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He started taking her to get her pension

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and to get her money from the bank.

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It was clear John Davies needed to be stopped,

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and fortunately, in Sylvia's case,

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the authorities had got wind of what was going on.

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The hospital security knocked on my door

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to say they'd had concerns raised about Sylvia

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and would I mind going round and seeing how she was.

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He was going to inform the police.

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Detective Sergeant Peter Jarvis works for North Wales Police

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and would lead the investigation into John Davies.

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He recalls the state Sylvia was in

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when officers first went to see her with Nicola.

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She was blue. Her hands were blue.

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There was no heating on in the house.

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There was no food in the house.

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And we had a chat to her

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and she was convinced that John Davies had taken all her money.

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And he was probably living the life of Riley while she was struggling,

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and worrying herself...

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She was making herself ill, really.

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But the police were on the case

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and the first thing they needed to do

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was take a full statement from Sylvia.

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Although she was traumatised by what had happened,

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she bravely agreed to be interviewed.

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It's very difficult,

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because you want to appeal to them.

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You want to get the best evidence you can from speaking to them

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and yet at the same time, you want to care for them

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and make sure that their welfare is the paramount

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and you're putting their welfare before anything else.

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So that she wouldn't have to testify in court,

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Sylvia's interview with the police was recorded on video.

0:19:480:19:52

And the following clips from her video interview

0:19:520:19:54

give a shocking insight

0:19:540:19:56

into the way Davies convinced her he was her friend.

0:19:560:19:59

And by going through Sylvia's bank statements,

0:20:240:20:26

the police had been able to establish

0:20:260:20:28

that Davies charged Sylvia

0:20:280:20:30

a staggering £12,000 for the work he'd done.

0:20:300:20:34

John Davies' ruthless tactics came as no surprise to the police.

0:20:440:20:49

It turned out he had over 70 previous convictions

0:20:490:20:53

and in 1998, he'd been sentenced to three and a half years inside

0:20:530:20:58

for defrauding an elderly lady out of £1,000.

0:20:580:21:01

Having worked in the area where he now lives,

0:21:020:21:06

obviously I was well aware of the type of person he is

0:21:060:21:08

and his family and all his associates as well.

0:21:080:21:12

The challenge now was to stop Davies once and for all.

0:21:120:21:16

The option available was we swore out a warrant under the Theft Act

0:21:160:21:19

to go and execute a warrant at John Davies' home address.

0:21:190:21:22

Armed with a search warrant,

0:21:220:21:25

a team of officers from the police and Trading Standards

0:21:250:21:27

turned up at the house John Davies shared with his partner, Rhian Jones,

0:21:270:21:30

who, it later turned out, was also his partner in crime.

0:21:300:21:34

During that search,

0:21:340:21:36

we recovered in excess of £40,000, £45,000 cash

0:21:360:21:41

which was strewn across the house,

0:21:410:21:43

underneath cushions and under chairs.

0:21:430:21:45

In drawers, within bedrooms and the living room - all over the house.

0:21:450:21:49

The police also seized bank statements

0:21:490:21:51

and other relevant paperwork

0:21:510:21:53

and later that day,

0:21:530:21:54

Davies was arrested and interviewed under caution.

0:21:540:21:57

The following is a clip from the interview

0:21:580:22:01

in which DS Jarvis asks Davies to explain

0:22:010:22:04

all the cash that was found around his house.

0:22:040:22:08

Why is that money not in the bank?

0:22:080:22:09

-Well, you know, I'm a Gypsy.

-Yeah.

0:22:090:22:12

-And I told you all along, I'm not good with paperwork.

-Yeah.

0:22:120:22:16

And when you go in sometimes it says, "Fill this" and, "Do that",

0:22:160:22:19

and I'm not trying to hide from nobody,

0:22:190:22:21

I've just thrown it there.

0:22:210:22:22

If I wanted to hide it, I would dig a hole in the ground

0:22:220:22:25

and stick it there, wouldn't I?

0:22:250:22:26

I've got nothing to hide, so why shouldn't I leave it there?

0:22:260:22:30

Is there a law against that?

0:22:300:22:33

Davies maintained the work he'd done for Noreen and Sylvia

0:22:330:22:37

was completely legitimate.

0:22:370:22:39

I'd gone there 100% to do the work the best I can

0:22:400:22:46

and if the job is not up to standard,

0:22:460:22:49

I can't see where I've done wrong.

0:22:490:22:50

While Davies carried out the work,

0:22:500:22:53

it seems his partner and accomplice, Rhian Jones' role,

0:22:530:22:57

was to try and conceal their ill-gotten gains.

0:22:570:23:00

And it was estimated the couple had taken in excess of £100,000

0:23:000:23:04

from Sylvia and Noreen alone.

0:23:040:23:07

But to build a watertight case against the couple,

0:23:090:23:12

DS Jarvis and his team

0:23:120:23:13

needed to prove that Davies had overcharged his victims.

0:23:130:23:17

So he called in a chartered surveyor

0:23:170:23:19

to assess and value the work that had been done.

0:23:190:23:23

The cost of the work by the contractor was near enough £10,000

0:23:230:23:28

and my valuation was £2,500,

0:23:280:23:31

which is substantially less than the amount paid.

0:23:310:23:35

But it wasn't just the cost of Davies' work that was so shocking.

0:23:350:23:39

Some of his work was just horrendous.

0:23:390:23:41

A child could have performed better

0:23:410:23:44

on some of the painting contracts I've seen carried out.

0:23:440:23:47

The police now had enough evidence to take both Davies and Jones to court.

0:23:470:23:53

And it didn't take long to get a result.

0:23:530:23:55

John Davies pleaded guilty

0:23:550:23:58

at Mold Crown Court to 18 indictments

0:23:580:24:00

and then following a two-day trial,

0:24:000:24:04

Rhian Jones was convicted and found guilty by a jury

0:24:040:24:07

of five indictments.

0:24:070:24:08

John Davies' convictions included fraud and theft

0:24:080:24:11

whilst Rhian Jones was found guilty of concealing criminal property.

0:24:110:24:17

Jones was sentenced to two years in jail,

0:24:170:24:19

while Davies got four and a half years.

0:24:190:24:22

It was a great result for North Wales Police,

0:24:270:24:29

who'd worked with Trading Standards, social services,

0:24:290:24:32

and the health authorities,

0:24:320:24:33

and it was justice for the innocent pensioners preyed upon by Davies.

0:24:330:24:38

Sylvia was extremely happy that he was in prison.

0:24:380:24:42

Very happy.

0:24:420:24:44

She wasn't worried about the money.

0:24:440:24:46

She was just happy to see that he got...

0:24:460:24:49

That she got justice, basically.

0:24:490:24:51

For more information about protecting yourself

0:24:510:24:54

and those around you from scams, go to...

0:24:540:24:56

Now, before I go, I want to tell you about

0:25:070:25:10

some of the latest scams out there right now.

0:25:100:25:12

I'm meeting with an expert from the National Fraud Authority

0:25:140:25:17

and today we're looking at one of our biggest expenses - cars.

0:25:170:25:21

Let's talk about vehicle scams. What's doing the rounds right now?

0:25:280:25:31

What's happening now is

0:25:310:25:33

people are phoning up to say that they have buyers for your vehicle

0:25:330:25:37

and if you pay a fee,

0:25:370:25:39

they will introduce you to those buyers.

0:25:390:25:41

So you pay the fee and, of course, the introduction never materialises.

0:25:410:25:46

-It's that simple.

-It's that simple.

-Nothing turns up.

0:25:460:25:49

Quite simply, be very wary of anybody you don't know

0:25:490:25:53

that wants any sort of finder's fee for getting you a buyer.

0:25:530:25:56

That's not the only car-related scam.

0:25:560:25:58

What else could I expect?

0:25:590:26:01

We see people from abroad contacting you by e-mail to say,

0:26:010:26:05

"I want your vehicle."

0:26:050:26:07

OK, your car is £2,500,

0:26:070:26:11

I've arranged for a cheque for £5,000,

0:26:110:26:14

please use this £2,500 as the shipping fee,

0:26:140:26:19

so please transfer this money to this account

0:26:190:26:23

to pay for the shipping fee.

0:26:230:26:24

The cheque will be counterfeit.

0:26:240:26:26

If you paid them the £2,500 and sent to this account,

0:26:260:26:32

you've lost that money as well.

0:26:320:26:34

That's pretty harsh.

0:26:340:26:36

No matter how tempting the amount on the cheque is

0:26:360:26:39

to buy your car and ship it, it will be fake.

0:26:390:26:42

Any cash you send in return will be lost for ever.

0:26:420:26:45

Con men will continue to come up with ever-more ingenious ways

0:26:450:26:50

of depriving you of your savings.

0:26:500:26:52

If you recognise the warning signs,

0:26:520:26:55

you can stay one step ahead of the con men.

0:26:550:26:57

Stay safe. See you next time.

0:26:570:27:00

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:27:210:27:25

Matt meets Terry and Pauline, who wanted to get their affairs in order and decided to make a will. But they were then exploited by merciless conmen who persuaded them to hand over their cash and then did a runner.

Plus, the story of a builder and his partner who targeted elderly ladies, charging them thousands of pounds for what amounted to odd jobs.


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