2nd July 2020

Doing without… enforcers

The COVID-19 crisis has revealed just how much we rely on the work of enforcement bodies


By Eleni Chalkidou
Director of Communications, Chartered Trading Standards Institute
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Enforcers have stepped up to the mark and proved themselves to be on the side of the angels, diligently working with dedication and determination under the most difficult circumstances. I am in awe and I am grateful

Locked up in my bedroom, away from the noises of the Fortnite Victory Royale taking place in my son’s room, I am zoning into my work. I am in control I think, getting my work done, sticking to government guidance and staying safe. I don’t think twice when my phone rings and it is an unrecognised mobile number. Sarah Saunders tells me in her non-English accent that she is calling from my bank. I haven’t spoken to anyone new for months. Cabin fever has kicked in, I am longing to speak to her because I am vulnerable.

One of the most traumatic things for me has been the rise in COVID-19 related scams targeting the public. Under normal circumstances most scams are aimed at the vulnerable; and even though each of us can be vulnerable some of the time, under the ‘new normal’ of life during lockdown, we are all vulnerable.

This is why now, more than ever, enforcers – whether the police, anti-crime agencies or, of course, trading standards – play a vital role in protecting the citizens of the UK.

The scammers have shown their true colours during this pandemic. Launching a barrage of phishing emails and text scams, they are exploiting a situation which for most of us has been distressing, and for many of us, tragic.

But likewise, enforcers have stepped up to the mark and proved themselves to be on the side of the angels, diligently working with dedication and determination under the most difficult circumstances. I am in awe and I am grateful.

This vulnerability has been exploited beyond scams. The early days of the lockdown saw panic-buying and stockpiling, as people attempted to prepare themselves for an unprecedented and chaotic situation. Most retailers acted admirably but some hiked their prices as they sought to make a quick buck from people’s anxiety. Mark my words, I will remember you after lockdown!

Trading standards received numerous complaints as disreputable businesses and individuals pushed up the prices of items such as toilet paper and hand sanitisers. The Competition and Markets Authority created a Coronavirus Taskforce to clamp down. With the support of trading standards, it will ensure that those attempting to exploit my fear are held to account.

Just like me, the citizens of the UK have long memories, and are sure to remember those whose greed, callousness and criminal behaviour represented the very worst of humanity during the crisis, even long after it is over.

Trading standards officers can be immensely proud because when the time came, they stood up and behaved selflessly with courage and decency – and people will not forget this!

If anything good can come from COVID-19, it will be a renewed appreciation for trading standards and all enforcers. We have all seen over the past few months who the key workers are; with any luck, this new perspective on essential services may lead to new funding priorities.

As for my mystery caller Sarah, I listened for a moment longer, until she suggested she could transfer my money to a safer account. Luckily it then clicked and I realised that she was trying to steal from me. Angrily I asked her if she goes fishing much and I thanked my lucky stars for everything I learned from becoming a Friend Against Scams!