"Good morning, this is Barkingside Police Station".
That's how the call to my mother began, yesterday morning at 9am. She is 86 in a few weeks time and lives alone in the house in Redbridge where I was born over 50 years ago. Inevitably, she has seen many changes in her road over that period but enjoys a strong sense of neighbourly community. Like many people of that age, she is infirm, finds walking a great challenge but is sharp in her mind and generous in outlook.
"Is that Mrs Martin?"
"I'm afraid I have some bad news for you. Your bank cards have been stolen and we believe they are being used fraudulently"
"That can't be right. I've got them right here, in my handbag".
"Well, they are definitely being used fraudulently. It's possible they have been cloned - that is, copied. We have been talking to Lloyds TSB and they need to speak with you right away. Is it all right if we transfer you to them?"
"Yes, go ahead".
The call is transferred to Lloyds TSB.
"Hello, Mrs Martin. I'm afraid we need to recall your cards straight away and issue you with new ones. If it's all right with you, we will despatch a courier to collect them. We take security very seriously, and need to issue you with a security number. Could you take this number down?"
My mother dutifully took a note of the security number.
"Now, it's important that you don't reveal your PIN numbers to strangers. You know that don't you?"
"Our Fraud Division need to verify the PIN numbers with you, and they will call you later this morning. You will know it's a genuine call because they will provide you with the security number we gave you, so you can be sure it's a genuine call. Is that all right? It's most important you don't tell anyone else about this because the fraud investigation is underway and security mustn't be breached".
I'm sure you can guess what followed. Indeed, the "Fraud Division" called and obtained the PIN number from my (by now, very confused) Mum. The "courier" arrived later to collect the cards. Only later did she start to worry that there was something not quite right about all this.
She was receiving calls from these conmen right through to 9 30pm yesterday evening - by now, they were purporting to express concern about her welfare and (I would guess) wondering if there was some more money they could extract from her. Having withdrawn the entire contents of her accounts (£4,000) during the course of the day.
The rest you can guess. The (genuine) Police were called. It's a scam, more elaborate than the Police had previously seen. Of course, elderly people living alone are always the victims. The Police identified 11 calls to my mother from the fraudsters during the course of yesterday. By the night's end, she was shocked, angry with herself for being taken in and bewildered by the sophistication of the sting.
My mother is relatively fortunate - she has many friends and family to help her through the experience. I hope she doesn't decide she can no longer live alone at home.
Why have I committed this to a blog? Because I am reminded how our Council policy of supporting elderly people to live at home is not just about home care, but is about community safety and how communities work.
Secondly, because our own Community Safety team in Wandsworth is now starting to run safety sessions for elderly people on the model of the Junior Citizen Safety and Lifeskills programmes that have been successfully run in Wandsworth for many years. My mother's experience tells me that such awareness raising sessions are incredibly important in today's society.
Thirdly, because I was struck how cleverly the fraudsters impersonated the language and approaches of legitimate security services. Most of what she described was a straightforward lift from standard security practice, lulling her into a false sense of the authority of her callers.
Finally, because I want you to know and pass it on.