Posted in Writing

Trust Me, I’m a Bell Ringer

In this month’s issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I share cautionary tales about buying and selling our family cars.

Debbie learning to ring bells on the dumb bell
Learning the basics of bell ringing on the dumb bell, under the guidance of St Mary’s Tower Master Colin Dixon, who is also Editor of the Hawkesbury Parish News (Photo: Laura Young)

When buying or selling a car privately, it pays to be wary of would-be scammers, so when last month we decided to part with a vehicle we no longer needed, I braced myself to fend off shady dealers.

Sure enough, the first offer was what I’ve since discovered to be a classic case of overpayment scam:

  • Via email, the buyer offers your asking price without even viewing the car and asks to pay online, in this case by Paypal.
  • You then receive an email confirming his payment – but of a higher amount.
  • The buyer emails again, regretting his silly mistake and asking you to refund the difference direct to his bank account.
  • Then he disappears without trace, taking your refund with him, while his original payment to you bounces.

Suspicious when his supposed proof of payment went straight into my spam box, I called his bluff, rebuffing and blocking him without paying a penny.

The next offer came from a much more plausible source: a lady who told me she lives in Chipping Sodbury and works for Marks and Spencer.

What could be more respectable? I thought, before realising that was exactly what a scammer might expect me to think.

Last year I came close to committing an unintentional but plausible scam myself. At a dealer near Wells, we viewed and made an offer for a car, and I set up a bank transfer to pay for it. When I dropped my husband off to collect it and drive it home, the salesman was pleased to see us. “We’ve received your money, thank you,” he beamed, but his face fell when he double-checked. “Oh no, that’s from a different Young.”

“But I’ve paid from my Marks and Spencer bank account, and they told me it would be in your account by 5pm,” I replied. It was already gone five. “But I must dash – I’ve got to get back for bell ringing practice.”

Even though the money had not arrived by the time the dealership closed for the evening, the trusting young salesman let my husband drive the new car away. His nerve almost failed at the last minute.

As he handed over the keys, he said: “You realise if the payment doesn’t come through by the morning, I’ll have to report you for car theft.”

When I checked my bank account the next morning, the money still had not left my account. When I phoned to ask why, I was told it had been stopped it as part of a routine check for money-laundering. The transfer eventually went through, but it cost the salesman a sleepless night.

Only with hindsight did I realise my bell ringing practice would have made a great cover story for a scammer, second only to wearing a clerical collar. Or indeed living in Chipping Sodbury and working for Marks and Spencer.

Fortunately my Marks and Spencer lady turned out to be as genuine as my bell ringing practice, but I fear I may have put the car dealer off bell ringers for life.


A Note about the New Bells of St Mary’s

photo of the Wulfstan bell
Fresh from the mould, our new Wulfstan bell, named after our former parish priest, St Wulfstan

This month, our local parish church of St Mary the Virgin will take delivery of a wonderful set of eight new bells, which have been cast especially for us, after a mammoth fundraising effort by the Friends of St Mary’s. I’m on the Friends’ committee, and I also run their website.

For  more information about this exciting and historic event in the life of our village, visit www.friendsofstmaryshawkesbury.com, where over the coming weeks we will be sharing the story of their blessing, installation and inauguration.


More About Money-Laundering

cover of Fatal Forgery by Susan Grossey
Constable Sam Plank’s investigations into historical financial fraud start with this first novel in Susan Grossey’s excellent series

I’m lucky to have a friend who is an expert on money-laundering – or rather on the prevention of money-laundering. If I ever have any qualms about the trustworthiness of a deal, I know I can count on Susan Grossey for advice. She is the author of a series of books and numerous articles on the topic, which have also inspired her to write an excellent series of mystery novels about historical financial crime. It’s kind of heartening to know that dodgy deals pre-date the digital age and online banking! I highly recommend her Constable Sam Plank series, which kicks off with Fatal Forgery – read  more about Susan’s books and where to buy theme on her website: https://susangrossey.wordpress.com/


In Other News

cover of Murder Lost and Found
The ebook is now available for pre-order and the paperback will be out on 23rd May.

Meanwhile I’m gearing up to launch my next novel, Murder Lost and Found, which is due to be published on 23rd May – a date I chose as auspicious because it will be my daughter’s eighteenth birthday! One of the themes of this story, which kicks off when a dead body is found in the village school’s lost property cupboard, is the deceptiveness of eyewitness evidence, a dilemma encapsulated by the quote from psychologist Elizabeth Loftus in Psychology Today:

“Eyewitnesses who point their finger at innocent defendants are not liars, for they genuinely believe in the truth of their testimony. That’s the frightening part – the truly horrifying idea that what we think we know, what we believe with all our hearts, is not necessarily the truth.”

I’ve had great fun writing this story, the seventh Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, which sees Sophie gain new confidence as she reaches the end of her first year in the village of Wendlebury Barrow. I’ve introduced some fun new characters too, including a trio of mischievous workmen and Anastasia, a beautiful young intern that to Sophie’s horror Hector has appointed while she was away on holiday.

The paperback will be available from the launch date – more news on that to follow soon. 

Posted in Personal life

Mix and Match

Marks & Spencer
Image by jovike via Flickr
Checking my inbox today, I find it peppered with emails from clothing suppliers trying to persuade me to buy a new winter wardrobe.  The thermometer having plummeted in the last few days, we’re all going to need our winter woollies by the time we come back from half term, so I take a look at what they’re offering.First on the list is a message from Marks and Spencer highlighting their new “coatigan” – a combination of a coat and a cardigan.  It sounds just right for inbetweeny, Halloweeny weather.

I’ve never seen a coatigan, but I don’t need to.  This portmanteau word conjures up a precise vision. I’m intrigued by the cross-breeding that fashion retailers believe is going on in our wardrobes.  First came the skort (is it a skirt? Is it shorts?).  Then last year the shoe-boot (no explanation necessary).  This was swiftly followed by jeggings: the spawn of jeans and leggings.  Whatever next?

If the trend continues, here are my predictions for your warmer winter wardrobe this season….

The Jumpover – as sleek as a jumpsuit but practical as an overall, this all-in-one  outfit will keep the fashion-conscious woman clean but elegant while working around the house.

The Underall –  not dissimilar to old-fashioned combinations, this underwear features the added benefit of practical overall-style pockets for storing essential tools.

The Shocking – a seamless, streamlined cross between high-heeled shoes and fishnet stockings for the girl who really wants to get noticed at the office Christmas party.

The Harf or Scat – a hat with scarf attached around the lower edge to avoid the annoying gap that lets the draught in between conventional hat and scarf sets.

But my favourite this winter will be Pyjippers – ending chilly ankles when I go down to make the tea first thing in the morning.  I wonder if I can get them patented in time for Christmas?

(This post originally appeared in the November edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News.)