Maureen: Just call me fraud-buster...

Maureen: Just call me fraud-buster...

Maureen Hill is a regular columnist for Travel Weekly and works at Wessex World Travel, Gillingham, DorsetCall me super sleuth

Hetty Wainthrop? Miss Marple? Amateurs, the pair of them. This is the week when I swung into action on the trail of credit card fraudsters who were clearly targeting agencies in the West Country.

Day one of the saga started with a call from a foreign chap requesting flights and accommodation for the following day. Nothing so unusual in that, but when he told me he was based in London I grew a little suspicious and asked him if he’d booked with us before.

He claimed he had, but I could find no record of him on our system. I asked for a landline number to accompany his address but he could give me only mobile contact details.

The final piece of evidence I needed to get the office smelling strongly of rat came when I quoted for travel and accommodation and he went along with it immediately without so much as flinching, offering a debit card for payment and an email address for tickets and vouchers.

We do not have a PDQ system in the office, so we thought we would check with the credit card company by phone, voicing our concerns to the operative at the end of the line. We were told in no uncertain terms that it would cost us £4.50 to check the card.

Given that we were likely to be advising of a potential fraudulent transaction that could run into thousands, I thought it a bit rich to be paying for the privilege of saving their business.

Later, another foreign gentleman emailed to request that two other colleagues in their company would like flights to Accra five days hence. Again, he did not query the price
and emailed passport names and numbers. I was positively itching with the dodginess of it all.

We contacted the fraud squad and Dorset police, just as we’d been advised by the two officers who’d visited us earlier in the year with laminated instructions as to what to do if we suspected anyone of shady activity. A WPC was dispatched to take details and passport numbers.

I asked if she could trace the mobile used to make calls to us, but she said there were certain directives the police had to follow and tracing calls was an infringement of personal liberties. Instead, she wanted the passport numbers, which I passed on. She told me the details would be sent to the Met.

I had been stalling the ‘client’ by telling him the British Airways system was down but, at this point, he must have taken fright as he stopped calling and emailing.

The following day, the credit card company called to say my suspicions were correct; we were being scammed by somebody using stolen or cloned credit cards.

Day four finally brought a call from the WPC who excitedly told us all the details we’d given her had now been logged with Police Intelligence.

I thanked her for letting me know, but could not stop myself from commenting that the fraudsters had had plenty of time to make good their getaway and cover their tracks.

“For all we know, they could be terrorists,” I said. “If you were as quick to bang up these boys as you are nicking speeding motorists, we’d all sleep much safer.”

Bless her. She said she understood my frustration, but really, she couldn’t come close.

I await the results of the passport investigation with interest, but I shan’t be holding my breath.

The cheek of it

“Can I have some baggage labels, please?” asked a woman we didn’t recognise as a client of ours. 

“Did you not receive any along with your tickets?” I said.

“No,” she replied.

“Well, that’s unusual. Let me look at your booking.”

I had a hunch I wouldn’t find her on our system, but I wanted to hear her embarrassed excuse.

“Oh, I didn’t book here,” she said, blushing. “I did it on the net.”

“I see,” I said, smiling. “Unfortunately, we don’t sell baggage labels here, but I believe you can purchase them at WHSmith.

"Of course, if you had booked with us, we could probably have offered the same deal plus a free ticket wallet and baggage labels and you’d have been supporting your local agent to boot. Never mind. There’s always next time.”

They don’t call me the Wicked Witch of the West for nothing!



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