A BUSINESSMAN has told how scamsters rang him to claim bailiffs might break into his York home and seize goods worth £640 for non-payment of business rates.

Steve Harris said the conmen’s call so unnerved him that he moved his teenage daughter to a friend’s house for two nights, fearing they might visit when she was at home alone.

He also said he was concerned other York business owners might be so frightened that they would pay money they didn’t owe to avoid a bailiff’s visit.

Steve, who runs minibus firm Anytime Travel, said he received a phone call at 5.30pm last Friday from a man telling him bailiffs would come to his Derwenthorpe home within the hour.

The man said they would be recovering property to the value of £640, following a court order issued by Northampton County Court on behalf of City of York Council.

“He said there was no need to be in, as the bailiffs had a locksmith and had the right to break in and remove items,” he said.

“I don’t owe any money to anyone but it was still pretty frightening, not so much for me but for my daughter Megan, thinking she might be in when someone like this called round.

“Megan won a Community Pride Spirit of Youth award last year for caring for her late mum Janine while she was fighting motor neurone disease, and she is still struggling to deal with her death, so a visit from bailiffs was the last thing she needed.

“I feared the worst and moved her to a friend’s house, in case someone turned up and it kicked off.”

Steve said the man told him he could settle the matter by paying the money now, which he declined, and the man then said: “We’ll see you in an hour.”

He was concerned that a business owner who did perhaps owe money might be so frightened that they paid some money over to prevent anyone calling.

Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud, said it noticed a significant number of reports late last year of bogus bailiffs requesting payments for a “phantom debt” in Yorkshire and issued an alert to warn people and explain how they could protect themselves, and the fraudsters could be striking again.

“Fraudsters are requesting payment by bank transfer and if refused they threaten to visit the people’s homes or place of work in order to recover the debt that is owed,” said a spokeswoman. She advised business owners: “Make vigorous checks if you ever get a cold call associated with a bailiff. Request details of the debt in writing to confirm its legitimacy. Do not feel rushed or intimidated to make a decision based on a phone call. Take five and listen to your instincts.”

Cllr Jenny Brooks, executive member with responsibility for fraud, said the council was aware of such a national scam, and said that if ‘bailiffs’ were unable to provide the correct documentation and case number, people should call the citizens’ advice helpline on 03454 040506 for advice, and details would be passed to trading standards.