Fraudsters 'disconnect' phones in money scam

POLICE today issued a warning over a new scam where conmen call victims claiming to be from British Telecom and 'disconnect' their phones to prove it.

The fraudsters have been targeting homes in the Lothians with cold calls in which they claim to be a BT "representative" chasing up unpaid bills.

They tell their target that they will have their line disconnected if they refuse to hand over payment by debit or credit card.

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One victim told the Evening News that the fraudster told him he could cut off the phone immediately to prove the call was genuine. He was told to hang up and try to dial another number, and the man found he was unable to use the phone as the line went dead.

When he later contacted the police to alert them to the scam, officers told him the conman had simply stayed on the line and put his phone on mute.

Police today warned residents not to hand out personal details to anyone before checking they are genuine.

Once the fraudsters received the card details, they would be able to clear out the accounts of anyone falling for the trick.

One victim from Livingston, who asked not to be named, said he was called by a man with an African accent.

He said: "He informed me that he was disconnecting me because of an unpaid bill. He demanded payment immediately of 31, or it would be 118 to reconnect at a later date.

"The guy wasn't even fazed when I told him I was with Virgin Media, as he alleged they have to pay BT a percentage for line rental.

"He realised I wasn't believing his story, so offered to demonstrate that he was from BT. I asked how and he told me to hang up and try phoning someone - he would disconnect my phone to prevent this."

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The man tried to call but found his phone was dead, with not even an engaged tone, before the fraudster called back.

He added: "He was very pleased and asked if that was enough proof that he was with BT. I asked how the payment was to be made and he said credit card, there and then."

The man refused to pay up and contacted police.

He said: "You could almost be convinced. The sad thing is that it is so simple that it will certainly fool the elderly and vulnerable."

A police spokesman said: "We would urge anyone to check the authenticity of a caller before agreeing to any payments or giving out any personal details."

A BT spokesman said the firm was aware of the con and urged customers never to give their card details over the phone.