"The Oldie is an incredible magazine - perhaps the best magazine in the world right now" Graydon Carter, founder of Air Mail and former Editor of Vanity Fair

Subscribe to the Oldie and get a free cartoon book

Subscribe

A guide to con men. By Ruth Webster

Blog | By Ruth Webster | Jul 10, 2024


Ruth Webster lost £30,000 to diabolically clever scammers. Here are her tips for keeping the crooks at bay

Have you been scammed? I have. It knocked the stuffing out of me, mentally and physically. I’ve never experienced such a living nightmare before. Don’t think I am exaggerating. And please don’t think, ‘This will never happen to me.’

It is happening all over, all the time. It has been cold comfort to discover how many other victims there are out there – sensible, professional, responsible people – who have been conned as I was, losing, with their self-respect, considerable sums of money.

I reckon I’ve seen the last of some £30,000.

When the truth emerges, the first reaction is to hide one’s shame. When my counsellor and friend asked if I had anyone I could talk to, I said I really didn’t feel like exposing my folly.

‘Wrong!’ she replied. You must tell everyone: that’s the only way of thwarting the fraudsters.

It started for me with a sympathetic woman phoning to ask if I had charged a number of expensive items to my card.

‘No,’ I replied, and she said she’d cancel them. Then a man who said he was from the Fraud Office and was conducting a vital inquiry into counterfeit in a number of banks. When I asked how I could know if he was genuine, he gave me a number to ring, where his position was confirmed.

‘Why me?’ I asked.

He said, ‘Because it is your money that is at stake.’

At the time it all seemed perfectly reasonable, and I felt privileged to help.

Next I was sent to buy certain extremely expensive items – with the journeys meticulously planned for me – as ‘proof’ was needed for the investigation. These I handed over to couriers with passwords who came to my address, always assured that the money I’d spent was being returned to my account.

So, with money piled up from investments in my current account (which the fraudsters conned me into handing over), I lost both those expensive items and cash.

I tried desperately to get out of this, but the voice, constantly on the phone, completely mesmerised me. It was always ‘Just this once.’

I genuinely believed I was helping the Fraud Office in a detailed investigation into fraudulent practice inside my two banks. The whole ordeal lasted for nearly a month, when the voice suddenly said, ‘You won’t be hearing from us again.’

At last I sought help.

To save you from this kind of deception, here are a few tips:

Don’t trust the telephone. It can be used in unimagined ways to entrap you.

Don’t answer calls from unknown ‘private’ numbers.

Don’t be flattered into ‘helping’ with anything to do with finance.

Don’t believe callers ‘from [such-and-such] bank’: banks don’t work by phone.

Don’t bother to check callers’ ‘identity’: the contacts they give will only confirm the scam.

Don’t believe it will be enough to say ‘no’: the ‘persuasion’ can be interminable and deadly.

Don’t ‘confirm’ information about yourself: you are handing over facts that will be used against you.

Don’t let them undermine your faith in people you have had reason to trust. For me, this was the unkindest cut of all.

Sounds simple? Of course – once you are aware. But I wasn’t. Before this happened to me, I was entirely ignorant of such frauds.

These criminals are diabolically clever: the word most used about their methods is ‘hypnotic’. They know all the tricks and use them ruthlessly.

If, like me, you come into the category of ‘old, single and living alone’, you are fair game, particularly now that the stresses of the many past months have left us vulnerable.

Our defences are down – and our generation was programmed to stand up for what we see as our civic duty. We expect to help when asked.

It must have been, for them, like taking sweets from a baby. I break out in a cold sweat when I think how gullible I was. Now people are saying, ‘How could she have been caught?’

So what can you do?

Do put the phone down as soon as a stranger mentions money.

Do ignore their repeated ban on mentioning the call to anyone else.

Do train yourself to ignore the constant calls that batter down your resistance.

Do call the police: they have been a huge support to me. A three-hour session with a note-taking detective has lifted a burden from my shoulders. They are now in control, and if the smallest detail of my evidence can help them, something good will have emerged.

Do trust yourself: call for help as soon as anything rings false.

Do listen to your bank: I was so brainwashed that I rejected an approach from the bank which could have saved money and possibly identified the criminals.

The support of friends has helped me through the slough of despond into which I descended when the scam was revealed. Looking back, I hardly recognise myself. Should I accept responsibility for unwittingly aiding and abetting criminal activity? I feel too raw to decide.

One last ‘don’t’: don’t let it happen to you.