Fake debt collectors are targeting small business owners across Essex, Consumer Watch can reveal.
Conmen are targeting people, often the elderly, who have advertised their business on online directories, to try to get cash from them using false claims they are behind with fees.
Muriel, 76, and Patrick Gibson, 80, who run a small Essex hotel, received a phone call from a man claiming to be a bailiff.
They had previously advertised the hotel with Business Directory Limited, but stopped using the service several months ago.
Mrs Gibson said:
“This man said he was a bailiff and we owed £10,000 in unpaid bills for the business directory. “I said it was ridiculous because we had cancelled, but he said we were in breach of contract. He said he would be coming round at 3pm if we did not pay up, to remove furniture and possessions from the hotel.”
The couple were not taken in and pressed the scamster for details of who he was and the debt collection company. He refused to answer and eventually put down the phone.
Mrs Gibson said:
“I just want to warn people not to be taken in by this. He was very forceful and quite intimidating – some people might be frightened into paying up. “We only paid £199 a year for the service, but he said that was a mistake and it should have been £199 a week and that was why the bill was so high.”
Consumer Watch contacted Business Directory, which is based in Lancashire.
John Davis, its accounts manager, said the scam was becoming more widespread.
“This is nothing to do with us, but we have had calls from about 20 different people who have been affected. “They are simply conmen, who get people’s details from online business directories, including ours, and call to say they owe money. “Our advice is to hang up and report them to trading standards. We would only ever contact people by e-mail, not on the phone, and if bailiffs were involved, people would get written to and 30 days notice.”
A spokesman for Trading Standards said the scam appeared to be a variation on a previous fraud. He added: “There have been scams around business directories before relating to people being asked to part with banking details over the phone in order to subscribe.”
He said there were guidelines governing how bailiffs could operate.