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Warning

Fraud scam identified in respect of judgment enforcements

Whose debt is it anyway?

Summary

The potential for fraud in respect of judgment enforcements is a current concern and vigilance is required from anyone asked to comply with an apparent bailiff’s demands.

Facts

Should you pay the person who has just rung you and who says they are a bailiff ?

You are working away trying to get by in COVID times. The phone rings. You answer. Your heart sinks because the person who speaks says they are a bailiff. You know that a judgment has been entered against you. They come across nicely but say that unless payment is made immediately they will be attending at your premises to enforce the judgment and mention removing your goods.

Your heart races further. You do not want someone turning up and removing your goods. They tell you the solution is that you pay up, but not to them,  to [ in this real life case Northampton County Court]. They give you a direct number for the court bypassing the general number “which will be busy“ for you to ring them.

You ring the number and get met with a recorded message saying it is Northampton County Court… Calls will be recorded… and all the other things you might expect to hear. You get through to a person who says they know the bailiff you were speaking to before. They confirm the bank details for the court and tell you it will be put in a special account - an escrow account - and that you will then have 28 days to challenge the requirement to make the payment. That sounds like a good safety net to you and you make the payment.

So you have averted the crisis & no bailiff has attended to remove your goods. Well, in fact you have not averted a crisis. You have just been the victim of a fraud and will be out of pocket for the sum paid and will still have the judgment to settle in the future as well.

The bailiff was not a bailiff but someone pretending to be one. That number for Northampton County Court was not for Northampton County Court. That special bank account you could get the money back from was the fraudster’s account and as soon as your money was paid in, it was taken out by the fraudster.

Comments

If judgment is entered for a specific amount - a liquidated judgment - the judgment is put on a publically available register, meaning  potential fraudsters can obtain these details and use it against a supply of unsuspecting targets, those they ring being especially vulnerable during the current COVID pandemic as their premises may be closed and only attended on certain days and staff may be working from home or furloughed.

It is important for everyone to be aware that just because a judgment may have been entered by the court, bailiffs (also known as High Court enforcement officers or certificate enforcement agents) are not automatically instructed. The party who has obtained judgment must make a separate application to instruct a bailiff. A bailiff should give seven days’ notice in writing before attending any premises. For more information about the process, see our note on 'What happens immediately following judgment in default'

During the current COVID pandemic, bailiffs are still permitted to attend commercial premises in person. However, they are currently prevented from entering domestic premises.

The court service has confirmed that while they may contact debtors by telephone to discuss a judgment and may offer to take debit or credit card payments over the phone, the court service will never ask for bank details or ask for bank transfers to be made using sort codes and account numbers.

(Read more on the Guidance on bailiff and enforcement officer scam).

Therefore, we would advise that, if someone contacts you requesting money in respect of a judgment and provides payment details, the person contacted should request a copy of the judgment be provided. You should take the full details of the caller including name, the company they work for, their address and phone number, and ask for a copy of their identification confirming they are a registered bailiff. You should tell the caller you are going to security check them first before speaking further and end the call.

 You should then contact either:

  • your insurer, broker, or legal advisor, for further advice if these options are open to you
  • the county court which entered the judgment to see if a bailiff has been engaged by the creditor. Get the court telephone number yourself - do not rely on any number given to you.
  • As a further check, google any names or telephone numbers provided by your bailiff for himself and for the court as this may reveal multiple postings by other people who have been contacted by these fraudsters.

This is not a hypothetical scenario but one recently encountered by a client of Weightmans. It is a very real risk. Enforcement of judgments by bailiffs is a daily occurrence. Due debts need to be paid but please be cautious and do not let the pressure of the call win and take up the so-called safe payment solution leading you to pay your money over to a fraudster. 

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