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Police are on the trail of guaranteed contract fraudsters

Police are aware of a potentially fraudulent scheme involving companies falsely charging companies/sole traders a fee for work that is never followed up. They are liaising with Gas Safe Register regarding the matter: enquiries are ongoing, and several potential victims have been identified.

We’ve warned before of the dangers of entering into so-called guaranteed contracts. We’ve heard from gas engineers who have been contacted out of the blue by companies offering them ‘guaranteed’ contract work in return for an up-front payment.

They often operate like this: a company contacts you by phone or email, offering you exclusive and guaranteed work in your area. The company, often describing itself as a property maintenance firm, says it wants to give you a contract to provide landlords’ gas safety record checks and maintenance of gas appliances in a specific postcode area.

But here’s the catch: gas engineers are asked to pay a fee to secure the ‘exclusive’ contract, often around £2,000. Or you may be invited to apply through a tender for the work.

Several gas engineers have contacted Gas Safe Register to say that they have never received any work despite paying the fee. Then they can’t get hold of the company to which they have paid their hard-earned money and can’t recoup it. These companies pop up regularly and change name frequently. Their addresses are often serviced offices and any phone numbers provided are not in service or go through to virtual assistants only.

As part of the investigation, police may contact victims by phone or email, and they say they understand that anyone contacted in this way may be concerned about being contacted. Please be assured that any approach from the police will be followed up with an email from a police email address so that you will know that any contact is authentic, along with ways to verify the officer’s details with the police force.

If you are contacted by a company that fits the description of the companies offering guaranteed contracts, there are ways that you can keep yourself safe.

Always question cold-calling from companies you have not dealt with before. The following websites are free to use, open to everyone and do not require registration.

Companies House
If you are contacted by a Limited company operating in the UK, they must be registered with Companies House. Companies House can be used to check company directors, when companies were incorporated, whether they are still operating and what other companies the director is involved with. This information also includes the filing history of the company, covering changes in directors and accounts produced.

Phone numbers
Fraudsters often will try and impersonate other companies and can mask their number with genuine numbers. If you’re in any doubt, phone the number back and make sure it’s is the genuine company you are speaking with. You can use https://who-called.co.uk/ free to look up any phone number: it’s  based on user experience and provides area codes, etc.

Fraudsters impersonating companies will try and match a company’s genuine domain – for example, @gassaferegister.co.uk and create their own, such as @gassafe.com, to make you think you are conversing with the genuine company. You can check any domain name at www.whois.com/whois/ This will show you when the domain was registered and can be used to cross-check. If you’re dealing with what appears to be a well-established company but the domain was created recently, then it may be fraudulent and you should only proceed with caution.

Bank transfers
If you are asked to transfer money, make sure the name of the account you are looking to transfer to matches the name of the company or group of companies that you are dealing with. You can check the bank you are sending money to here or  search online for “Sort Code Checker”. Fraudsters will sometimes opt to use lesser-known banks.

Internet searches
Search the company online. Look at their reviews and any negative experiences on forums. If they are offering work that would be carried out in conjunction with other companies/agencies, carry out your due diligence and contact them yourself to satisfy it is genuine.

You can find out more about so-called guaranteed contracts here.

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