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...or as the classical text has it, 'caveat emptor'...our ebullient Public Order Working Group Convenor, Alan Jackson, as in previous issues, offers advice on the latest scams and dodges. Yes, it is very much a matter of 'buyer beware'

Slamming

A Harpenden householder recently discovered that his telephone land-line had gone dead. His phone company told him that in future his services would be supplied by another company.

He'd been 'slammed'.

Changing subscribers' telephone services without their apparent consent is widespread.

Astonishingly, in 2011 520,000 households, according to OFCOM, are thought to have had their land-line or broadband services switched without agreement. 'Slamming' began after the deregulation of the telecommunications industry in the mid-1980s and, whilst a mis-selling practice rather than a criminal offence, it amounts to a dreadful nuisance for the victim. Occasionally, it also happens by error when consumers do switch suppliers or move house and the wrong line is taken over. Mobile phone contracts are also susceptible to 'slamming'.

'Slamming' may result from you completing a survey or entering a contest. The 'small print' in your entry may include an authorisation to switch. Or a salesperson, purporting to be from your current carrier, may entice you with a free upgrade or an improved rate.

OFCOM is attempting to clamp down on the problem and the OFCOM website, telling you how to make a complaint, is easy to find. (www.ofcom.org.uk)

OFCOM offers the following advice.

don't sign anything until you have read the small print carefully.

Boiler Rooms

This second horror involves banks of telephones in rented offices from which people are persistently pressed by seemingly pleasant and professional sales staff into buying company shares. 'Boiler rooms' are often located overseas and may be outside the jurisdiction of UK law and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) . The shares will be high-risk and will be worth a lot less than the customer is asked to pay. The shares may be unlisted and it may not be possible to trade them subsequently. Indeed, they may not exist at all.

It is important to note, all you Harpenden share-holders, that this scam is targeted directly at experienced investors, not the the innocents abroad – and the FCA say the average sum lost per victim is £20,000. If you think you have been approached, 'slam' down the phone as impolitely as you like and call the FCA on

0800 111 6768 (freephone)

Email: consumer.queries@fca.org.uk

www.fca.org.uk

….and finally

If you've survived 'slamming' and 'boiler rooms', think 'smoke alarms', authentic smoke alarms, that is. You can contact the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and request a free home fire safety visit. They will fit a smoke detector free of charge if they think you need one. The phone number is 0300 1234 046 but some people have found it more satisfactory to use 01727 818919. They may be found online at

http://www.hertsdirect.org/actweb/fireandrescue/hfscformrequest.htm


Autumn 2013 Newsletter

Don’t get slammed and keep out of  the Boiler Room

Personal: parking and Pedestrians

Dear Fellow-travellers

I thought it was an urban myth. Then one day a car was parked outside our house. The driver remained in the car until a taxi arrived and carried his luggage and himself away. Fifteen days later a taxi made the reverse journey and a bronzed figure stowed his cases in the car and drove away, having, presumably, dodged the expensive Luton air port parking charge. I am told it is a common practice.

I find it strange that people feel it right to colonise a space on the public highway for their own deployment. Stopping for an hour or so makes practical sense but some of this parking is regular, as in those who park and walk to the station to avoid parking costs, or permanent, as in outside their home. Whatever the ethics of such habits, they jointly create conditions whereby some of Harpenden's roads are, in part or whole, transformed into one-way streets.

I discovered that, for all the traffic that is on the move, the average car is parked somewhere 90% of the time. Harpenden's car parks already operate at 80/95% capacity on working days and, as 42% of Harpenden households have two, three or more vehicles, it is not surprising that on-street parking is substantial.

I have also on two recent occasions barely avoided nasty injury when walking, 'sober and properly dressed', as army protocol ran, along the pavements after midnight when the town is plunged into perilous darkness. I stumbled into cars parked partway on the pavement, in likely contravention of the 1835 Highways Act and Rule 244 of the Highway Code. This creates a perilous impediment for pedestrians, especially young parents with buggies or prams, and there is patently a growing incidence of this hazard. Recently I have noted and had mentioned to me by neighbours the phenomenon of cars parked with all four wheels completely on the pavement, thereby creating an absolute pavement barrier.

I would draw readers' attention to the national charity 'Living Streets', which is nobly campaigning for a total ban on pavement parking in a situation where the law is complex and hard to enforce. The charity urges people to approach their local authority. The response to such enquiry of the SADC parking office was that it was neither instructed nor resourced to be pro-active.

I believe that the current fate of the pedestrian touches on the nub of the quality of life issues involved. Happily, the 2011 national traffic accident figures showed an improvement with 1900 killed and 23,000 seriously injured in the year, although the child victim figures were still higher than the European average. Nonetheless, the sad explanation was that this lowering of casualty numbers is in main part due to the fact that pedestrians, particularly vulnerable groups such as children and older people, simply and sadly not walking the streets

I feel it right to convey to everyone the alarming news from the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee that outdoor air pollution, crucially the output of vehicular traffic, is responsible for 29,000 deaths annually in the UK. Add in the perpetual noise factor and one can understand the claim made recently by one transport commentator that 'in the struggle for the streets the pedestrians lost'.

I muse finally over the paradox that whereas drug suppliers and dealers are more vigorously punished than drug users, those who manufacture and retail cars capable of breaking the national speed limit go unpunished, while law-breaking drivers are faced with penalties.

Yours movingly

'Strolling'

(courtesy of Flanagan and Allen)