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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Every year con men and scam artists net an estimated £3.5 billion from you and I,
the British public. They don't care how they do it - or how much damage they cause.
They only really care about one thing -
that's how much cash they can get.
'Coming up... Where there's a will, there's a way - especially if you're a scam artist.'
-What do you make of what he did now, knowing what you know?
-I feel I could strangle him.
And the ruthless con man who targeted elderly women.
I remember the case in 1998, and the front page of the local paper
where John Davies was referred to as the most evil man in North Wales.
I'm here to tell you what the con men don't want you to know -
so you can stay ahead of the game and not get scammed.
You work hard all your life to provide for your family.
You want to make sure that they're looked after,
but it doesn't put off the inevitable, and that is why you write a will.
You want to make sure your house, your possessions...it all goes to the people you love and care for.
Death is a taboo, and something we don't like to talk about,
so when it comes to planning what happens after you die,
scammers can use this reluctance to their advantage
and fleece you of your money.
What they want is to intimidate you, to control the situation
and make sure that you sign the documentation there and then.
Preferably a cheque - or even better, if they can get it from you, cash - for the services.
They are not necessarily going to deliver those services,
or they may actually only give you an incompetent document.
56% of people in the UK haven't made a will,
so there's no shortage of potential targets.
And with no laws to prevent anybody from setting themselves up
as a will writing company, it can be dangerous territory.
Solicitor Helen Clarke has seen many people come through her doors after being caught out.
Not all will writers are dishonest or incompetent,
but it is an unregulated market.
These people are not qualified. They're not legally trained.
The fact that a will writer has a logo at the top of their pieces of paper,
or a number of letters after their name,
really doesn't mean anything.
And when people do decide to write a will,
they often go for what looks like the easiest option.
Terry and Pauline Ash, along with their daughter Wendy,
run a mail order firm from their home.
The family has had a bad experience with a salesman.
All three of them have been left confused,
and in order to get a clear picture of what's happened, I'm chatting to them separately.
In his workshop, Terry's been telling me what made them decide
that now was the time to write a will.
I think Pauline was a bit worried because
I had been diagnosed probably six months earlier
that I had a small touch of prostate glands cancer.
And although they said I had a fairly good 15 years to go yet before I needed to worry,
I think it worried her quite a lot.
-So it's those little things that send alarm bells.
'This realisation that they needed a will meant they'd now become a target.'
Pauline and Wendy were out shopping when they found
a will writing company advertising in a well-known high street chemist.
This is why we thought it was authentic.
They had a big billboard, and they had professional-looking leaflets.
So we gave our name and address and just waited for the call.
Within days the company got in touch, and an appointment was made
for an adviser to come round and see the three of them.
We thought, that's good - in the comfort of your own home
you can list down where you want your bits and pieces to go,
and it just seemed ideal.
But Pauline, a home visit presents the scammer
with an ideal opportunity to manipulate the situation.
Many people fear actually making a will.
And so when you are in that state of anxiety,
it is very easy to be exploited, to be persuaded.
What do you make of the guy, straight away when he walks in the door?
A big fella, dripping in gold.
He went straight into the patter - "You've got a lot of property here -
"if one of you should feel ill and need nursing home treatment,
"you could end up with having this taken off of you by the Council to pay for it."
Then he went on to say about his wife dying of cancer,
and so of course we were very sympathetic with it,
and how much it cost for her to go into a nursing home.
So that was the theme he was on.
-So that had a bit of resonance?
-Yeah, I wanted to get something done.
Then he dropped in the price of £950.
For the £950, he said he'd set up a property trust
that would protect them from having to sell hearth and home
to cover any future nursing care.
He then offered to set up for Wendy to have
power of attorney, in case her parents' mental health declined.
Bang, another £250.
Almost like that, you were up to over £1,000.
-He's just sold us other services
before he's even mentioned the wills...
Oh, yeah, we mustn't forget the wills.
You know - what he actually came for in the first place...?
So far, our silver-tongued salesman had given the family
a bill of over £1,000 to pay between them.
He drafted out the wills at a cost of £47 each. Done? Not quite.
There was an additional fee of £25 apiece to store the wills.
After all, "you wouldn't want them lying around the house, would you?"
So - the total that the family would now have to pay...
All this, after only being with our man for two hours.
-You've gone to over £1,000...
-I know. It's unbelievable, isn't it?
-How did he get away with that?
-Smoke screen...? I don't know.
Whatever it was, it was done very slick.
"You can come back and you can alter it any point of time..."
And of course we're sitting there doing the nodding dog...
Your main objective, if you were trying to con somebody would be to
get in, to get either a cheque from them or some money from them,
and to be able to get out as quickly as possible.
I said, "I can't afford £1,094, three cheques.
"I'll take one now for £494 - two post-dated cheques for £600."
'Wendy also handed over HER cheque for £322.'
There was no urgency to pay there and then - you could have
had as long as you want to say, "We've checked into it, it all looks fine.
-"You hand me the documents, I'll hand you the money".
we could have done. With afterthought.
A big word, "afterthought".
The con artist left clutching the family's cheques.
Unsurprisingly, he didn't hold on to them for long.
The next day, those cheques were cashed.
-Not the two post-dated - but her cheque, my cheque.
-He'd banked it so quick, I said, "This is bad." You don't do that.
'They were starting to fear something was very wrong.'
This was the only paper he gave us.
At the bottom there's a Canterbury number,
so I phoned up and I said,
"This chap came round and didn't leave us any paperwork."
She said, "I'll make sure he gets it to you." Nothing.
"Can you get somebody to phone me and tell me what we've bought?"
I said, "We're coming down.
"There must be a solicitor somewhere in your building."
"No, we're just a call centre. We just take messages."
It dawned on the family they had given the cash to a company
with no actual address they could directly ring or physically visit,
and they had nothing to show for their money.
So, back to the Trading Standards.
She said, "I don't like the sound of this -
"you know you can go for court action?"
After starting court proceedings, they had to wait a fortnight for the company's reply.
When it came, it was shocking.
They did have the front, didn't they, to counterclaim.
When we took them to court, they counterclaimed.
-We - I - owe them £400.
-Exactly. What, profits?
After receiving no paperwork of any kind,
the family had sensibly cancelled the post-dated cheques
and now the company were claiming they were owed the money.
It seems ludicrous,
but crooks will sometimes use the court system to their advantage.
Two reasons - one, it can scare off those claiming against them,
and second, the process of claim and counterclaim can be lengthy,
He said at the time that he was a member of the Institute of Willwriters.
When I rang the Institute of Willwriters up -
"No, they're not a member."
They met the salesman a few months back, but the family has
only recently had its first direct contact from the company.
Wendy gets a letter two weeks ago from them.
The only letter ever to have ever plopped through the door,
saying they're moving,
they're moving address up to Essex.
Yeah - "As from the 1st June, our new address, e-mail as above.
"Any future correspondence should be sent to the address.
"If I can be of any further assistance to you,
"please do not hesitate to contact me"(!)
We checked that address out. There is a business centre there,
but it's only a business messaging address.
-The same as the other one.
Yeah, there's no physical address there at all.
-Can I paint a picture for you?
What I think it's more likely that we're dealing with, is someone
who operates from their own home.
It may even be the guy you met - who probably isn't using his real name.
And he's sending all the letters out himself,
he's using mailing addresses rather than real physical addresses,
so he can hide where he genuinely is operating from -
and he comes out, he takes money from you,
he leaves you with meaningless documents,
and when things become a bit sticky and people start complaining
and taking out court cases against him, he moves on.
He changes the name of his company,
he moves on, and does the same thing over and over again.
I think, just from my experience - and I'm not a policeman,
I'm not a lawyer - I think that's what we're dealing with here.
'Despite cancelling the post-dated cheques,
'the family are having to face up to the harsh truth
'that between them, they've been conned out of £816.'
-Do you think you ever stand a chance of getting your money?
I think it's gone.
I cannot see why it happened.
It seemed so bona fide in the beginning -
but to be ripped off like that...
-I just feel so gullible.
-You do, don't you?
Yeah, I feel so gullible. And I can't believe, if we've taken them
-to court, that we're not going to get anything back.
And I thought, well, at least one thing,
she did do two post-dated cheques which we stopped...
But it still leaves a sour taste in your mouth that you've been
scammed out of hard-earned cash.
You think, "Where are my brains?"
What do you make of what he did now, knowing what you know?
What I know now...
I feel I could strangle him if I could get hold of him.
So when there are unscrupulous companies out there who just
want to steal from you, what's the best way to go about getting
your affairs in order and getting that peace of mind?
As a solicitor, I would say go and see a solicitor.
I would also encourage you to get a recommendation -
so ask amongst your friends, your work colleagues.
One advantage of using a solicitor over some will writing firms
is that your documents are protected by law even if they go bust.
They can't be just abandoned on a rubbish heap, or left to be
stored in a barn - and both of those are examples that I know of.
As a possibly cheaper alternative, there are plenty of reputable
will-writing companies around, if look carefully.
It's worth considering how long this business has been established,
so if you receive a leaflet through the door or in a supermarket,
is it going to be around in three, five years' time?
And before handing over any money,
make sure you know what you're paying for.
Ask for a quote. So if you're asking for a will,
ask for a specific quote as to how much it is going to cost.
Always make sure that you have something in writing to tell you
what you are committing to.
The Ash family are continuing their court action
to chase down the company that conned them.
They don't want the same thing to happen to others.
Will-writing scams are so hot right now,
and here is what I think makes them despicable.
They operate on people at their lowest point,
when they're worried about their families
and what's going to happen to them after they're gone.
None of the victims of these scams are trying to get rich quick -
they're just trying to buy a little bit of peace of mind,
and to take advantage of that is unforgivable.
Now for the story of a very different kind of scam.
With the huge number of people who now use the internet,
and the vast array of online scams that are out there,
it's sometimes easy to forget that there are still people who do it
the old-fashioned way - by getting on the phone
or knocking on your door.
It's December 2010, and at Mold Crown Court in North Wales
a builder and his accomplice are about to go on trial.
They stand accused of scamming elderly women out of over £100,000.
Sadly, all of the women targeted by the couple
were very upset by the experience, and can't talk about what happened to them.
One of the women was Sylvia, a quiet pensioner who lived alone
in this smart bungalow near the North Wales coast.
Nicola is Sylvia's neighbour.
She moved back here after her husband died.
She was 72, and she didn't know anybody in the village.
But one day Sylvia had a knock on the door from a man called
John Davies, who claimed to be a builder.
The first thing we saw him doing was the flat roof on the garage.
He seemed to be doing a bodge job,
but she was adamant the work needed doing.
Nicola didn't like what she saw,
and was concerned that Davies was taking advantage of Sylvia.
My husband had been round to see Sylvia, to see if she was OK.
She said she was, she said it was work that needed to be done.
And we went a few more times, but she was adamant that everything was fine.
Sylvia paid Davies for the work on the garage roof,
but it wasn't long before he was back again.
As time went on, he started doing more and more jobs.
Taking the greenhouse down, laying stones over the lawn.
The work appeared to be bodged and unfinished,
yet Davies was charging Sylvia large sums of money.
Cheques varying from £1,000, £2,000 and up.
And we were really surprised
because, for the work he'd done,
how much he'd actually taken off her,
knowing that a few stones for the garden,
with no prep work, doesn't cost that much money.
Nicola could see it was taking its toll on Sylvia.
You'd go around and there'd be no food in the house,
so you'd have to take food.
And this was just her way of thinking then -
"He's taken all my money and I haven't got any."
But Sylvia wasn't alone.
Margaret's elderly neighbour, Noreen,
lived alone in a chalet in north-west Wales
and was also targeted by Davies.
Noreen had was happy there on her own. She had her books,
she used to read loads and loads of books in her garden.
And then John Davies appeared on the scene.
Again, it seems it began with a knock at the door.
The first thing he did was repair her roof,
but then he was supposed to be doing other jobs,
keeping the chalet in good order.
But instead, Davies charged Noreen thousands of pounds
for bodged-up work.
She accepted everything that he said to her
and never questioned anything.
And for Davies, it was like having a blank cheque.
Gradually, he seemed to worm his way in.
He started taking her to get her pension
and to get her money from the bank.
It was clear John Davies needed to be stopped,
and fortunately, in Sylvia's case,
the authorities had got wind of what was going on.
The hospital security knocked on my door
to say they'd had concerns raised about Sylvia
and would I mind going round and seeing how she was.
He was going to inform the police.
Detective Sergeant Peter Jarvis works for North Wales Police
and would lead the investigation into John Davies.
He recalls the state Sylvia was in
when officers first went to see her with Nicola.
She was blue. Her hands were blue.
There was no heating on in the house.
There was no food in the house.
And we had a chat to her
and she was convinced that John Davies had taken all her money.
And he was probably living the life of Riley while she was struggling,
and worrying herself...
She was making herself ill, really.
But the police were on the case
and the first thing they needed to do
was take a full statement from Sylvia.
Although she was traumatised by what had happened,
she bravely agreed to be interviewed.
It's very difficult,
because you want to appeal to them.
You want to get the best evidence you can from speaking to them
and yet at the same time, you want to care for them
and make sure that their welfare is the paramount
and you're putting their welfare before anything else.
So that she wouldn't have to testify in court,
Sylvia's interview with the police was recorded on video.
And the following clips from her video interview
give a shocking insight
into the way Davies convinced her he was her friend.
And by going through Sylvia's bank statements,
the police had been able to establish
that Davies charged Sylvia
a staggering £12,000 for the work he'd done.
John Davies' ruthless tactics came as no surprise to the police.
It turned out he had over 70 previous convictions
and in 1998, he'd been sentenced to three and a half years inside
for defrauding an elderly lady out of £1,000.
Having worked in the area where he now lives,
obviously I was well aware of the type of person he is
and his family and all his associates as well.
The challenge now was to stop Davies once and for all.
The option available was we swore out a warrant under the Theft Act
to go and execute a warrant at John Davies' home address.
Armed with a search warrant,
a team of officers from the police and Trading Standards
turned up at the house John Davies shared with his partner, Rhian Jones,
who, it later turned out, was also his partner in crime.
During that search,
we recovered in excess of £40,000, £45,000 cash
which was strewn across the house,
underneath cushions and under chairs.
In drawers, within bedrooms and the living room - all over the house.
The police also seized bank statements
and other relevant paperwork
and later that day,
Davies was arrested and interviewed under caution.
The following is a clip from the interview
in which DS Jarvis asks Davies to explain
all the cash that was found around his house.
Why is that money not in the bank?
-Well, you know, I'm a Gypsy.
-And I told you all along, I'm not good with paperwork.
And when you go in sometimes it says, "Fill this" and, "Do that",
and I'm not trying to hide from nobody,
I've just thrown it there.
If I wanted to hide it, I would dig a hole in the ground
and stick it there, wouldn't I?
I've got nothing to hide, so why shouldn't I leave it there?
Is there a law against that?
Davies maintained the work he'd done for Noreen and Sylvia
was completely legitimate.
I'd gone there 100% to do the work the best I can
and if the job is not up to standard,
I can't see where I've done wrong.
While Davies carried out the work,
it seems his partner and accomplice, Rhian Jones' role,
was to try and conceal their ill-gotten gains.
And it was estimated the couple had taken in excess of £100,000
from Sylvia and Noreen alone.
But to build a watertight case against the couple,
DS Jarvis and his team
needed to prove that Davies had overcharged his victims.
So he called in a chartered surveyor
to assess and value the work that had been done.
The cost of the work by the contractor was near enough £10,000
and my valuation was £2,500,
which is substantially less than the amount paid.
But it wasn't just the cost of Davies' work that was so shocking.
Some of his work was just horrendous.
A child could have performed better
on some of the painting contracts I've seen carried out.
The police now had enough evidence to take both Davies and Jones to court.
And it didn't take long to get a result.
John Davies pleaded guilty
at Mold Crown Court to 18 indictments
and then following a two-day trial,
Rhian Jones was convicted and found guilty by a jury
of five indictments.
John Davies' convictions included fraud and theft
whilst Rhian Jones was found guilty of concealing criminal property.
Jones was sentenced to two years in jail,
while Davies got four and a half years.
It was a great result for North Wales Police,
who'd worked with Trading Standards, social services,
and the health authorities,
and it was justice for the innocent pensioners preyed upon by Davies.
Sylvia was extremely happy that he was in prison.
She wasn't worried about the money.
She was just happy to see that he got...
That she got justice, basically.
For more information about protecting yourself
and those around you from scams, go to...
Now, before I go, I want to tell you about
some of the latest scams out there right now.
I'm meeting with an expert from the National Fraud Authority
and today we're looking at one of our biggest expenses - cars.
Let's talk about vehicle scams. What's doing the rounds right now?
What's happening now is
people are phoning up to say that they have buyers for your vehicle
and if you pay a fee,
they will introduce you to those buyers.
So you pay the fee and, of course, the introduction never materialises.
-It's that simple.
-It's that simple.
-Nothing turns up.
Quite simply, be very wary of anybody you don't know
that wants any sort of finder's fee for getting you a buyer.
That's not the only car-related scam.
What else could I expect?
We see people from abroad contacting you by e-mail to say,
"I want your vehicle."
OK, your car is £2,500,
I've arranged for a cheque for £5,000,
please use this £2,500 as the shipping fee,
so please transfer this money to this account
to pay for the shipping fee.
The cheque will be counterfeit.
If you paid them the £2,500 and sent to this account,
you've lost that money as well.
That's pretty harsh.
No matter how tempting the amount on the cheque is
to buy your car and ship it, it will be fake.
Any cash you send in return will be lost for ever.
Con men will continue to come up with ever-more ingenious ways
of depriving you of your savings.
If you recognise the warning signs,
you can stay one step ahead of the con men.
Stay safe. See you next time.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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.