Avon Fire & Rescue Service warns businesses against scams

Avon Fire & Rescue Service (AF&RS) is issuing a warning to local business which may be targeted by fraudsters.

In recent weeks AF&RS has been contacted by a number of local businesses with details of a suspected scam.

Director of Corporate Services Lorraine Houghton said: “We have been contacted by local businesses which have been called by people claiming to be working on behalf of AF&RS. They have attempted to sell adverting space in publications and calendars on our behalf.

“Avon Fire & Rescue Service does not employ anyone to sell advertising space in any publication on our behalf. We are funded through Central Government and local Council Tax and do not use advertising as a revenue generator.

“We would advise anyone who receives a call of this nature to contact Trading Standards in their local area.”

A spokesperson for Bristol Trading Standards said: “Scammers will appear to associate themselves with individuals or organisations that are highly respected, well-known or in a position of authority. This can make victims feel more comfortable about agreeing to hand over their money.

“For example, advertising scams often claim to be connected with, or approved by, police, fire or health services. Sometimes scams will make reference to government or local authority schemes, or to new legislation, in order to make their offers appear genuine.

“The majority of publishers and suppliers to businesses are reputable; however, some resort to dishonesty for illicit gains. Rogue publishers make huge sums of money by inducing large numbers of victims to pay for adverts in publications that do not exist, or are not what people are led to believe.”

Advice from Bristol Trading Standards to improve your chances of avoiding scams:

  • Register with the Corporate Telephone Preference Service (CTPS), which operates a central opt-out register. It is a legal requirement that companies do not make such calls to numbers registered on the CTPS. This service is free of charge, and it will stop legitimate marketing calls as well as some from scammers.
  • If you want to place adverts, do your own research before you choose where to advertise. If you want to buy supplies, choose your own suppliers, and if you want to support a charity or good cause, identify that cause yourself and ask how you can help.
  • Look out for the persuasion techniques used by scammers, and for warning signs that you are being targeted by a scam.
  • Don't make a rushed decision, and do check small print carefully before signing any document. Make notes of any telephone conversation, and make sure that everything is confirmed in writing before making an agreement.
  • Remember that a verbal contract is binding. Although you may be able to escape a contract if you were misled into making it, it is easier not to make the contract in the first place.
  • Be aware that, as a business, you do not have the same cooling-off periods that are available to private consumers.
  • Make sure that all staff who take external calls are aware of business scams.
  • Check your systems and procedures for invoicing and payment to satisfy yourself that you are adequately protected.
  • If you wish to complain about what you suspect is a scam, or want further information, you can contact Action Fraud.

A spokesperson for Bristol City Council said: “If you receive demands for payments for something you believe you have not ordered, it is well worth taking a few minutes to send a written reply, stating clearly why you feel you do not owe any money. Always keep a copy for your records. It is common for businesses to refuse to pay an invoice if they feel that they have been caught out by a scam.

“Some types of business scams are followed up with relentless and aggressive debt collection practices if the victim does not pay. This is particularly the case with rogue publishers, directory scams and unsolicited goods scams.

“Some victims pay up even though they feel they have been conned, because they feel it is simply not worth the time and effort to make a stand. However, if they do this, they may be identified as an 'easy touch' and will be targeted again.

“Some victims have been threatened with having their goods or belongings seized to pay the alleged 'debt'. The only lawful way a supplier can do this is to first obtain an order in the County Court, instructing you to pay (for which there has to be a hearing that you are entitled to attend and defend yourself). Then, if you do not pay, the supplier must go back to court for a warrant that empowers the holder to seize goods to the value of the debt.