Trading Standards issues warning about fake ‘local business’ phone numbers

Trading Standards officers in Inverclyde are warning local people about a new, high-tech take on an old scam which has seen one couple end up £1,500 out of pocket.

The Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) allows scammers to buy a phone number for any town or city and divert it to their mobile phone. Consumers may think they are phoning a local company but the business can actually be anywhere in the world.

Councillor Michael McCormick, Convener of Inverclyde Council’s Environment & Regeneration Committee, said, “People like to employ a local firm because they feel like a known quantity. Scammers exploit this sense of trust and familiarity by appearing to be a local company in their adverts and online. This type of technology makes it harder us to track them down and easier for them to rip people off. ”

One Inverclyde resident, who asked not to be named, said, “We wanted to get the back green remodelled with plastic grass, slabs and a new fence. I saw an advert for what looked like a local company, they had an 01475 number. They had a page on the Internet too which looked very good.

“The guy quoted me £10,000 for the grass which was way too much. So we decided to get pebbles down instead. He said it would cost £6,000 and take a week. Him and two guys turned up and dug up the back green and took all the stuff away.

“The fence posts they put in were too small. They were squint. They used the wrong type of cement. The posts were unevenly spaced and they’d reused the old holes when I’d said not to.

“A brick layer came on the Sunday and built a couple of small walls. He kept asking for tools. His van was dead plain too. There was no name and no phone number on it. I started to smell a rat when another guy we got in to look at the grass quoted us £1,500.

“They’ve not been back. They left a wheel barrow with a flat tyre in the backgreen and a bucket full of rubbish. The page has been taken off the Internet and they’ve stopped advertising in the paper. We paid £1,500 cash down. The ad said, ‘All work guaranteed and fully insured,’ but we were foolish and got stung. We’ve lost our money but I wouldn’t like to see a pensioner get caught like this.”

Councillor McCormick said, “The council runs the Trusted Trader scheme to help people choose reliable local traders. We publish a directory of businesses that have been checked by Trading Standards. It includes comments from previous customers who can also rate the work they’ve had done.

“All traders display feedback from genuine customers broken down by: value for money; customer service or reliability; quality of service and the likelihood they would use the trader again or recommend the trader to someone else.

“Our advice is always use a trusted trader. When you’re getting any work done always get at least three written quotations. Ask people you know if they can recommend a trader. Be wary of traders who arrive in a vehicle which doesn’t have their details and company name on it.

“Customers should also be wary of giving away information that might lead someone to believe they have a lot spare cash to spend, ‘I’ve just retired,’ for example.”