Look out! A scammer is about!

Last Friday, September 1st, we were invaded by a cheerful, resourceful but rather stupid gang of scammers, apparently determined to clean us out of any valuables in sight. So look out for them.

They appeared in a silver BMW, greeted me with cheerful familiarity declaring they came to repair a leak – later seamlessly changing the story to tracing a source of bad smells under contract to Southern Water. (Next time they may switch to a different story to suit the circumstances).

They were probably ‘casing the joint’ for a target. Serendipity was on their side: we were expecting contractors to deal with a leak, we had experienced sewage smells in the past, they saw a neighbour’s furniture being loaded into a van, front door propped open, and me coming out to put stuff into the recycling bin. ‘Hello Young Man, we are here to fix your problem’, stretching a hand out of the car to be shaken. They asked for my flat number and I saw no reason to hold it back: with my poor memory for names and faces I could not recall which of the many contractors we routinely employ, if any, was due to turn up that morning.

By the time I got back with shopping they were at my door and quickly slipped inside, uninvited. Who are you? I asked. ‘We are working for Southern Water throughout the neighbourhood to trace the source of bad smells – their sewage system is knackered’. I should have, but did not challenge them. Like quicksilver they dispersed throughout the flat to start a ludicrous charade of  ‘testing’ every drain by running each tap for just a few seconds at a time.

The chap in the bathroom flushed the toilet before I caught up with him and somehow managed to create a huge splash, triumphantly declaring ‘Aha! this is the one!’, then proceeding to dismantle it. ‘We’ll fix it in no time at all and repair the damage in the flat below; but don’t you worry, Sir, it won’t cost a lot’. In the meantime others wandered around the flat but, I assume to their dismay, found every room occupied: a profoundly deaf cleaner in the living room, my wife resting in the bedroom and our teenage grandson in a spare room grumpy at having his lie-in disturbed by strangers and quite firmly uncouth about it.

My wife then caught up with us in the bathroom and demanded to know what was going on. By then the young scammer had a tube of bathroom sealant in his hands and without applicator tried to squeeze a bead to ‘seal’ around the toilet. I expressed doubts about potential efficacy and he said, with a condescending smile: ‘I know what I am doing, I have been in plumbing for 7 years’.

My wife ordered him out of the bathroom, needing to get ready to go. He said ‘That’s fine, I’ll leave my tools behind and come back later, when you are all gone.’ When will that be? I asked. ‘When will you be back? he reposted.  ‘After 6, I guess’, ‘All right then, we’ll come back after that’.

That just didn’t make any sense. Before leaving, I put a sign on our door saying ‘Ask the building manager for your tools’  but within minutes heard violent altercations in the hall, the scammers demanding their tools and Dan insisting on seeing identifications and authorisation first – while a profusely sweating crew of movers lugging heavy furniture blocked the way. I joined the crowd, just in time to see a scammers winding up to hit Dan in the face and was pleased to remind the contestants that half a dozen independent witnesses were observing them. They grabbed their tools and decamped in a hurry, hiding faces in hoodies while running to their car (but getting photo-graphed by neighbours, having the licence plate recorded – and leaving behind their fingerprints).

It was an interesting experience, not to be repeated. Katy Bourne, Sussex Police & Crime