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Purse and distraction thefts

In the last couple of months a number of purses (most are full of the kind of ID documents thieves are looking for) and handbags have been stolen from pubs, restaurants and supermarkets in Harpenden. Shoppers have also allowed others to see them entering their PINs at cash desks. The main victims are the elderly. Harpenden is safe, but not so safe that there is no need for vigilance: in public places people need to keep an eye on their belongings at all times and should call the Police on 101 if they see anyone acting suspiciously. And never loose your  concentration, especially if a stranger tells you you’ve just dropped a £10 note! If you do see an offence committed (you have to be quick – it all happens in an instant) make sure you memorise some of the essential characteristics of the offender. Women are advised to use zipped handbags and to keep the zip closed; they should  wear any strap across their bodies.

Telephone slamming

A friend who lives in Harpenden recently discovered that his telephone landline had gone dead. His phone company told him that the services on his line would in future be supplied by another company. He’d been ‘slammed’…..

Changing a subscriber’s telephone service without their apparent consent is a widespread but illegal telecommunications practice and it’s thoroughly inconvenient if it happens to you. Will it happen? Astonishingly, in 2011 as many as 520,000 households in the UK are thought to have had their landline or broadband services switched without their consent (OFCOM figures). Slamming began after the deregulation of the telecommunications industry in the mid-1980s. It is a mis-selling practice rather than a criminal offence: but victims will feel as if they are suffering from the activities of a criminal. It is to be avoided at all costs. It’s not all down to mis-selling: problems occur when consumers switch suppliers (the wrong phone line gets taken over) or when moving house (as was the case with my friend).

Slamming may result from someone taking a survey or entering a contest: in the ‘small print’ of their entry will be an authorisation to switch to another carrier. Alternatively, a sales person may purport to come from the victim’s current carrier and may entice the victim by offering better rates or a free upgrade. Sounds familiar? By the way, mobile phone contracts are susceptible to slammers as well as landline contracts.

OFCOM is attempting to clamp down on the problem: it has the power to fine companies that break the rules. They deal with complaints (in a general way – they don’t normally investigate individual cases) and it’s easy to find out online how to submit a complaint (once you’ve got your line back!).

Here’s OFCOM’s advice on how to avoid being ‘slammed’:

Boiler room scams

Here’s another horror. ‘Boiler rooms’ are banks of telephones in rented offices where salespersons pressurise investors into purchasing company shares. The sales people may appear to be pleasant and professional, but they will be very persistent over many months. ‘Boiler rooms’ are often based overseas and may be outside the jurisdiction of UK law and of the Financial Services Authority. The shares will be high-risk and will be worth a lot less than the customer is asked to pay. They will be unlisted and it may not be possible to trade them subsequently; in fact, they may not have existed at all.

Here are the warnings: experienced investors (plenty of them in Harpenden!) are targeted, and according to the FSA the average sum lost is £20,000. Think you’ve been approached? The FSA say put the phone down (impolitely if necessary) and call the FSA on 0845 606 1234.

Free Home Fire Safety Visits

From boiler rooms to smoke alarms. It may be of interest to know that you can go online (http://www.hertsdirect.org/actweb/fireandrescue/hfscformrequest.htm) and request a free home fire safety visit from the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. You should be able to contact them on 0300 1234 046: but some people have found it more satisfactory to call them on 01727 818919. They will fit a smoke detector free of charge if they think you need one.

Alan Jackson

Convener

Public Order Working Group

ISSUES AND OBSERVATIONS (July 2013)