Tackling your debts

Are you talking to a High Court Enforcement Officer or a scammer?

Posted 21 August 2016

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Make sure you’re not the victim of a scammer pretending to be a High Court Enforcement Officer.

It’s easy to take it for granted that the person we’re talking to is who they say they are. And we might be more likely to believe someone if they tell us they’re in a position of authority. But the sad fact is we can’t always be sure that the person on the other end of the phone can be trusted. 

Fraudsters don’t just pretend to be from your bank or from the tax office. In fact, they can even ring you up impersonating High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs). In case you’re wondering, a HCEO is simply a person who has been instructed by a court to recover money that’s owed to someone. They only operate in England and Wales – the Scottish equivalent is a sheriff officer.

HCEOs have the authority to try and recover money owed on a County Court Judgment (CCJ). You might be wondering why a HCEO becomes involves in a County Court Judgment. That’s because it’s possible for the judgment to be transferred from a County Court to High Court. From this point, it can be assigned to a High Court Officer who will try and get the money back. If a HCEO tries to recover any money that you owe, their fees will be added onto your total level of debt.

It’s easy to imagine someone falling for this scam if they’re in trouble with their debts and expecting this kind of contact in the first place. So how can you stop yourself falling foul of them? We’re going to look into the warning signs and how you can protect yourself. 

The warning signs

If you spot any of these warning signs, you could be talking to a scammer. Make sure you know what to look out for so you can stay protected.

Real High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) have very clear rules surrounding how they are able to behave. If they come round to your home, they have to produce identification and they also have to remain calm and professional at all times. Always be wary of someone who doesn’t want to tell you who they are or someone who seems aggressive or on edge. 

Sometimes certain companies have to ask you security questions before they can carry on with a conversation. This is normal practice and just means they want to be sure they’re speaking to the right person. But you shouldn’t ever tell anyone any personal details or transfer money when you’re not sure who you’re speaking to. 

Another warning sign is that the caller isn’t able to provide you with details about your own debt. If you ask them which debt they’re referring to and they can’t give you the original creditor, this is cause for concern. Even if the debt has changed hands since you first took it out – which is likely – they should still be able to tell you who you originally owed the money to. 

Never pay money over the phone to someone claiming to be from the court – if you don’t give out your details, you can’t be scammed.

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What should I do if I think I’m being scammed?

If you think you’re being scammed, don’t panic. It can be a very unsettling experience if you speak to someone threatening or pushy on the phone and you don’t fully understand who they are. Remember, you’re perfectly within your rights to end the call and if they are a con artist this is the best thing to do. 

If you’re not sure whether a call is genuine, you should ask the caller for the claim number and the court where it’s being processed. Every Country Court Judgement has a number and if the call is genuine they should be able to give you this. 

Once you have the number, you can check the claim is real by contacting the court.

How to report a scam

If someone has tried to scam you there’s no need to be embarrassed – scams are getting more and more sophisticated and anyone can be caught out. The good news is that there is something you can do to try and stop this from happening to anyone else. 

Report them to Action Fraud, the national centre for the reporting of fraud. You can make a report online or over the phone and the more information you give the better. 

What if I do owe money?

If you do owe money to someone and you have CCJs and defaults, you may be worried that you will be contacted by a High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) about these debts. So if you’re in this situation, how do you tell whether or not they are genuine? 

As soon as you spot any of the warning signs when you’re on the phone, end the call. If the debt really is genuine, you will have received notification of this via letter. A HCEO won’t just contact you out of the blue. You should already know about the debt they are talking about and have filled out a form in relation to the debt. 

What should I do about real HCEOs?

If you remember the debt being mentioned in the call and you know that you haven’t been making your payments, then this is a different situation. 

Don’t ignore contact from genuine High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs). You should always make every effort to pay the amount your CCJ states you have to. If you’ve got a letter about a CCJ being made against you, it’s really important that you read it carefully and respond to it within the time period stated on the letter. Our blog on how to deal with a CCJ should help. 

Make sure you get the debt help you need by speaking to a trained debt advisor. They will be able to explain which debt solution is best for you and how you can start putting your finances straight again. You can speak to an advisor using the options to the left of the page or you can get general money help from the Money Advice Service. 

by Christine Walsh

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