Gongs and Gangs

My first blog in ages has been prompted by two events in a few days.  Let’s start with the happier one.

On Friday, 20 March, I was privileged to attend the 11th annual Mayor’s Civic Awards (otherwise known as the ‘Doras’) in Walsall’s magnificent Town Hall.  I had nominated one of the finalists, Mr Peter Roberts, a long-time friend, Chair of Streetly Neighbourhood Watch and all-round good guy.

Pete Roberts barbeques in Blackwood Park, summer 2014.Peter is one of those people who goes out of his way to help others without expecting anything in return.  In his neighbourhood watch capacity he not only organises and chairs meetings but also delivers the regular magazine and is always on call to assist a victim of crime.  Peter is also Chair of the Friends of Blackwood Park, where he has helped to restore an old pavilion to use, and where he also organises ‘BBQ in the Park’ events to keep youngsters entertained during the school holidays.  He does so much for the community I’m surprised he finds time for anything else!

Anyway, back to the awards.  The event was opened by WalsallPeter Roberts receives his Civic Award from Bob Warman and a representative of legal firm dwf. Mayor Councillor Pete Smith and introduced by Walsall-born TV presenter Bob Warman.  Following a lovely three-course meal we went into the awards proper.  I don’t know how many nominations had been made however I would guess that the judges would have had difficulty whittling them down to the fifteen ‘local heroes’ (well actually seventeen as two were joint nominations).  For the last few years, Walsall’s Civic Awards have not been made in the traditional categories, instead each of the five sponsors decide on their top three, from which they then choose their winner.  So there are five winners, plus the Mayor makes two awards of his own. I was humbled to be in the company of so many people who do so much for their communities.  Well done to them all.

Link to GLA home pageOn a completely different topic, earlier this week I was privy to a presentation given by a representative of the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority (GLA) who gave us an insight into the seedy world of trafficked people, intimidation, slavery and benefit fraud which goes on all around with few of us being aware.  The GLA, set up in the wake of the Morecambe Bay cockle-pickers tragedy, regulate labour provision in the agricultural, shellfish gathering and food packaging/processing industries.  What I heard was shocking.  People from many parts of the world are trafficked (both into and around this country), sold on, indebted, exploited, forced to work for little or no pay, forced to become sex workers or slaves.  The exploiters are criminal gangs who make vast sums of money, not only from these poor unfortunates’ labour, but also from you and I via the benefits system, making fraudulent housing and child benefit claims among others.  Slave bosses and human traffickers are taking vast sums off the UK taxpayer which they are using to live lavish lifestyles.  The most recent, and thought to be conservative, estimate is that there are around ten to twelve thousand slaves in the UK.  This is a disgrace, however there is something that we can all do about it.  Firstly, to find out more about this largely hidden crime, read the GLA publication ‘Spotting The Signs’.  Then, if or when you do spot a sign, report it to the police or the GLA.  Working in partnership, agencies and the public can make a vast difference to peoples’ lives.

Beware the Twelve Online Frauds of Christmas

This advice from West Midlands Police is so relevant I’m reproducing it in it’s entirety (well why re-invent the wheel).


Link to 'Twelve Online Frauds of Christmas' LeafletFollowing last week’s warnings over ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ police have launched a ‘12 online frauds of Christmas’ campaign to protect thousands of people from falling victim to cyber-fraudsters.

Working in partnership with the national policing lead for fraud, City of London Police, WMP are hoping that by focusing on some simple ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ of online shopping, they may reduce the number of people that fall victim to criminals at this time of year.

So far in 2014 74 per cent of all adults nationwide have bought goods or services online, and this December around 50 per cent of UK citizens are expected to use the internet to buy more than half of their Christmas presents.
The good news is the majority of us will still have our presents delivered to our doorstep or into our email account without a hitch.
However, the sad reality is there will also be tens of thousands of people across the UK whose Christmas will be damaged, and in some cases destroyed, after finding out they have fallen foul of heartless criminals who specialise in tricking internet users with the promise of great online deals and big cash savings.
The campaign focuses on activity that people may not be aware could cause them harm such as the hazards of opening Christmas e-Cards sent via email which may be carrying a virus (malware) that can embed itself and then corrupt your smart phone, tablet or laptop.

Throughout the beginning of December the campaign will flag up the threat of twelve online festive frauds, identified by the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB). These include auction fraud, holiday fraud, donating to charity, social media and online dating scams.
Police will be sharing top safety tips via traditional and social media with more internet safety advice available at: www.getsafeonline.org and www.cyberstreetwise.com
Police are also urging anyone who has had the misfortune to fall victim to one of the dozen festive frauds, or any other type of cyber-fraud, to report to Action Fraud − the City of London Police-based national reporting centre – on 0300 123 040 or at: www.actionfraud.police.uk

Protect Your Stuff From The Vehicle Burglars

Vehicle crime is a hot topic here at Walsall Police at the moment, mainly because we’ve seen an increase in vehicle-related crime in many areas of the borough and are focusing a lot of attention on reducing it.  To achieve this we’re concentrating on two approaches: firstly, catch the people who are doing it and secondly, advise vehicle owners on how they can avoid becoming a victim.  Which is where this blog comes in.

Vehicle-related crime can be split into two main categories; theft from and theft of.  Let’s look at theft from vehicles first.  In general this can be split into two areas, the theft of items from within the vehicle, and the theft of parts from the vehicle, mainly number plates.

check-your-fob-has-done-its-jobThe theft of items from within the vehicle is something that can be prevented by simply removing said items!  Rather than leaving things on show or even in the glove compartment, take them with you if you can.  If you can’t, leave them out of sight in the boot.  It isn’t, as they say, rocket science.  Even something with little or no value, a coat or some loose change, will tempt the thief.  £1 may not be much to you, but to a drug addict desperate to buy their next fix, the pound or so in your centre console is a fortune.  The next step you can take is to ensure your vehicle is locked.  You’d be surprised at just how many cars are left unlocked, presenting an easy target to the thieves, which is why West Midlands Police have launched the ‘Check You Fob Has Done It’s Job’ campaign.  Here’s just a few recent examples of thefts from unlocked vehicles in Walsall:

2 October – Pelsall – overnight – sat nav taken from glove box.
26/10 – Bloxwich – tablet computer taken from a car left unattended for a few minutes.
26/10 – Birchills – overnight – sat nav taken.
27 October – Leamore – evening – two tablet computers and a mobile phone taken.  They’d been left under a coat on the back seat.
27 October – Willenhall – overnight – digital camera and passport stolen.

The message of the WMP ‘fob’ campaign is ‘click it, check it’.  In other words don’t assume that your car is properly locked before you walk away, physically check by trying your door handles.  I’m old enough to remember the days before central locking when we had to do that and didn’t consider it a hardship!  Central locking is great but can go wrong for several reasons, perhaps because a door isn’t closed properly, or one of the locks is faulty, so get in the habit of not relying on it.  In relation to the large number of vehicles parked around Walsall every day, the number of vehicle crimes committed is very small – just a handful in fact – but thieves will roam the streets, especially at night, trying vehicle door handles, as captured on CCTV.  If they try 100 and get just one victim, that’s one too many.

Continuing with the ‘theft from’ theme, the theft of number plates is disturbingly common.  Number plates are often used in crime and can be expensive to replace, however there is an easy step you can take: secure your ‘plates with clutch or one-way screws.  These have part of the head missing so they can be screwed in but not out.  In fact we’ve made things really easy for you by teaming up with Halfords Autocentres who will supply and fit the screws for free!  To secure your plates simply download and print out the voucher (below) and make an appointment at Halfords’ Walsall Branch.  If you can’t print out the voucher give me a call and I’ll pop one in the post to you.

free number plate screws

Moving on to the theft of vehicles, whilst it’s true that vehicles have become more difficult to steal with the introduction of more sophisticated electronic security, a disturbing trend recently has been how crooks are managing to bypass such security, as highlighted recently by the BBC.  I won’t go in to detail here as you can read the BBC article, suffice to say that in recent months a number of high-value vehicles have been stolen in Walsall by ‘unknown means’, where the owner is still in possession of all sets of keys and there are no signs of forced entry, e.g. broken glass.  Apparently, whilst motor manufacturers are working on remedies, this trend is spreading to lower-value cars and commercial vehicles.

There is something you can do to stop your pride and joy being taken however.  An obvious solution is to garage the vehicle, especially overnight, if it’s possible.  If this isn’t possible then think about physical security, either fitted to the vehicle (e.g. wheel clamp, steering wheel lock), or in the area where it’s parked, e.g. strong gates or collapsible bollards.  Also think about aftermarket electronic security devices and/or having a tracker fitted.  The West Midlands Police Safer Motors website gives all sorts of vehicle crime prevention advice and you can visit the Secured By Design website for details of police-approved security products.  You can also help by remaining vigilant and reporting any suspicious activity to the police by dialling 101 or to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, which you can do anonymously.  If you’re not already in one, why not think about starting or joining a neighbourhood watch scheme?  It’s easier than you’d think, and an effective way of fighting many types of crime.  Finally on this subject, it is still true that the most common way to steal a car is by obtaining the keys, and thieves will break into homes to obtain them.  Thankfully this type of crime is very rare, but you should still take precautions by placing keys out of sight or away from doors or windows where they could easily be reached.  Don’t take them to bed with you, however, and if threatened (again a rare occurrence), hand them over – cars can be replaced.  Try to remember as much as you can about the thieves, what they wore, how they spoke, etc. to help the police investigation.

Finally, I’d like to close this fairly long (for me!) blog by re-stating that whilst vehicle crime is low, especially when compared to the number of vehicles on the road, it does happen and you should take sensible steps to protect your vehicle and other property.  If you’re in doubt follow some of the links I’ve included above or contact the police on 101 and ask to speak to your local Crime Reduction Officer.

Talking to the Animals?

Last night I had the privilege of organising a horse watch meeting.  Now, you may be conjuring up images of me stood in the middle of a muddy stable yard addressing a group of concerned equines, but you’d be wrong.  I haven’t quite come to that… yet.  The audience was in fact the 100 plus horse owners and other interested parties who crammed into one of our training rooms in response to a post on the Walsall Police Facebook page.  With some help from two representatives of Sandwell Horsewatch, the enthusiastic (and at times turbulent) meeting decided to set up a committee that will take the watch forward and work with the police to reduce equine related crime in Walsall.  There’s a lot that can be done.  Freeze branding and microchipping of animals, property marking equipment, locks and physical security, vehicle identification, the list goes on but should be done affordably.  For instance, security advice from theA horse watch logo UK Horsewatch Alliance includes keeping up to date records of tack and equipment.  This can be done securely and for free by utilising the Immobilise website, with the added advantage that the police will be more easily able to identify items should the worst happen.  There’s work for the police too, but together we should be able to reduce equine crime.

The Walsall Horsewatch steering group will shortly be meeting to begin setting up the group ahead of a general meeting to formally elect a committee.  They are proposing an annual membership of £3, which will go towards providing signs, newsletters and group running expenses.  If you have a horse stabled in the Walsall area and would like to join, please get in touch.

From Equines to Canines.

Fresh from setting up horse watch, I’m now seeking to set up dog watches in Walsall.  Glutton for punishment, me!  Just as with the equine world, this watch is aimed at dog owners, rather than the animals themselves, though of course having all those eager noses to sniff out crime could prove advantageous!  Dog watch isn’t a new concept, in fact we’ve had them in Walsall for many years, utilising dog walkers as the eyes and ears of the community, working with us in a similar way to neighbourhood watch to reduce crime and disorder.  Once again, if you’re a dog owner and would be interested, please get in touch or watch our website or social media for more information.  There will be no obligation to attend meetings or do anything other than keep your eyes open and let us know when you see anything that looks suspicious.

Now on to my next big idea, goldfish watch…

Beware the ‘Fake Courier’ Scam.

card fraudIn the last few weeks the ‘fake courier’ scam has come to the West Midlands, as explained in the West Midlands Police press release.  This scam is enacted largely over the phone, with the victim receiving a call from some one purporting to be a police officer, telling them that their debit or credit card has been compromised in some way.  The story may vary – your account has been hacked or the card has been used by someone they have in custody – but the aim is always the same, to obtain your card and PIN.  They then ask the card holder to phone the bank to cancel the card and say they will send a courier round to collect it.  So you put the phone down and call your bank.  Only the fraudster has not hung up so the call is not terminated and instead of your bank you are speaking to the fraudster or an accomplice.  Sometimes they even play music down the phone to simulate a call centre.  After asking for your PIN – which of course you’ll give as you’re speaking to your bank – they tell you that a courier will be despatched to collect your card, and a new one issued.  Some time later the ‘courier’ collects your card and bingo!  The fraudsters can empty your bank account or go on a spending spree at your expense.  What’s worse, the fraudsters callously target people they know will be vulnerable.

The internet brings instant information to us all, including all sorts of stories about scams and hoaxes, some of which are true, some not, or that only happen in other parts of the world.  Sometimes the scams do happen in our part of the world, to people like us, and so we must take the warnings seriously and protect ourselves.  So spread the word.  Tell your neighbours – particularly those who are elderly or vulnerable – that the police or genuine bank officials would never phone and ask you to divulge PIN numbers over the phone or send couriers round to collect cards – if you receive a call requesting this then hang up and contact police.  Take some simple steps to protect yourself against courier fraud and remember:

• Your bank will never send a courier to your home;
• Your bank or police will never collect your bank card;
• Your bank or police will never ask for your PIN;
• If you receive one of these calls end it immediately.

If you’ve been a victim:

• Report it to Action Fraud − call 0300 123 2040 or visit http://www.actionfraud.police.uk.
• If you have handed over any details to the fraudster, call your bank and cancel your cards immediately.
• If you want to call your bank, then do it from another telephone.

If you know of any other frauds that have been perpetrated against someone you know, please tell us.  Police officers are being issued with guidelines for investigating this kind of fraud.

No More Hangin’ On The Telephone?

West Midlands Police recently made radical changes to how non-emergency calls are handled with the opening of two brand-new contact centres, one at police headquarters in Birmingham and the other at West Bromwich Police Station.  Earlier today I was able to visit the West Bromwich site to find out exactly how non-emergency calls from the public are dealt with*.   Emergency calls via the 999 system still go through to the police control room at Bournville Lane Police Station.

My first impression on arriving in the centre was just how calm it was; all that could be heard was a low drone of voices, no shouting or panic, just an air of quiet efficiency.  I’d arrived mid-morning, at the start of the busiest time of day and all the staff were busily engaged taking calls, answering e-mails or on other related tasks.  Staff do not wear uniforms but all were smartly dressed, adding to the professional atmosphere.

Inside the West Bromwich Non-Emergency Contact CentreSo how is this new system different, and more importantly how will it improve how non-emergency calls are handled?  Previously a call coming in to West Midlands Police would have gone to the main switchboard at police headquarters and then passed on to one of ten contact centres based on local policing units.  This caused delays with the caller possibly required to repeat themselves.  Today, unless you require to speak to a specific person, your call will normally be handled by one person who will decide on the policing response to the call, possibly offering advice over the phone, taking a crime report, sending an officer or signposting to one of our partner agencies; thus offering a faster, more efficient service.  The two centres are not geographic; wherever you are your call may go through to either site, depending only on the next available member of staff – known as Contact Officers.

Staffing levels are set to cope with anticipated levels of demand, meanContact Officers have access to a range of systems to assist them.ing that there will be more staff on duty at the busiest times.  This is not only more efficient but also ensures that there should be enough staff on duty to ensure that calls are answered within the 30 second target time.  Staff are well trained (and well paid!) to deal with the demanding role, handle calls professionally and to make the correct decision.  They have a range of technology at their fingertips to assist them.  A call logging system known as eNotes will allow them to see if you have called before and the outcome of those calls; another allows them to view the current deployment of police resources in any area.  They can also use intelligence systems, and create incident logs or crime reports.  To help the Contact Officer – who may have little or no personal knowledge of your neighbourhood – provide the best possible service they also have All workstations have dual computer screens and modern telephony systems.  The left hand screen shows a neighbourhood internet page and the other the police command and control system.access to neighbourhood policing web pages on the West Midlands Police website, giving them some background knowledge of the area and local priorities to assist with their decision-making, or even direct you to a local meeting.  The average call duration is eight to nine minutes, though of course many are much shorter and some considerably longer. 

The move to the two new contact centres has been a major one that has involved the introduction of new technology and working practices requiring extensive staff training that will, with a little practice, allow West Midlands Police to achieve our target of answering 90% of calls with 30 seconds.

Finally, remember there are two ways you can contact the police by phone.  In an emergency that requires an immediate police response, such as if a crime is in progress or life in danger, always call 999.  No-one will blame you for calling this number in good faith.  The other is 101, the new national non-emergency number which should be used in all other circumstances.

* I’d like to thank Manager Lyndsey Swallow for showing me around and explaining the new systems.

Have I Got ‘Mug’ Tattooed On My Forehead?

Someone out there must take me for some sort of a mug, as I’m receiving more and more phishing e-mails.  The latest I’ve received is from my new best friend Barry, though as you can see below, his English is that poor I’m not really sure what he’s asking!  Need an English language course, Barry?

Hello Dear Beloved Friend,

I’m happy to inform you about my success in getting those funds transferred under the cooperation of a new partner from paraguay.

Presently i’m in Paraguay for tretment meanwhile,i didn’t forget your past efforts and attempts to assist me in transferring those funds despite that it failed us some how. Now contact our secretary in Benin his name is Dr.Frank Joe on Email: (xxx@.com): ask him to send you the total of $800.000.00 which
i kept for your compensation for all the past efforts and attempts to assist me in this matter.

I appreciated your efforts at that time very much. so feel free and get in touched with my secretary Dr.Frank and instruct him where to send the amount to you,Remember that I had forwarded instruction to the secretary on your behalf to receive that money, so feel free to get in touch with Dr.Frank, he will send the amount to you without any delay.

My Best Regards,
Barry Favor

Though this attempt to deceive is laughable, it is also serious as these scams keep coming and, sadly, keep finding victims.  This is an example of just one of the many, many scams being attempted every day.  To find out more about the latest scams and how to protect yourself, pay a visit to the Scambusters website.

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