Are We Too Trusting of Uniforms?

Respect for Authority

Traditionally, we Brits have a healthy respect for those in authority or who are carrying out official duties.  Received wisdom is that those in positions of authority such as police, security staff, train officials and meter readers are there to help and protect us, enforce the law/rules or run a service.  It is quite right that these people need our cooperation and deserve our respect.  The most visible sign that allows us to recognise officials is a uniform.  But have we become too trusting of uniforms…?

Criminals Abusing our Trust

Sadly, criminals abuse our trust by posing as officials.  Recent news, police and consumer reports highlight an increasing number of scams, such as Courier Fraud, where fraudsters pose as officials and persuade victims to part with money or banking details.  Whilst most such scams are run remotely, i.e. via the phone, text or email, there have been a number of instances where criminals have donned a uniform and approached people in person to defraud or rob them.

Here are a few examples:

  • Gang members pose as police officers, complete with fake search warrants, and rob people in their home (read story…).
  • Tricksters pose as water board officials to rob elderly lady (read story…).
  • Germany warns of fake ticket inspectors on train (read story…).

Spotting a Fake Official

Obviously, the majority of people who approach you in an official capacity – whether at home, on the street or on public transport – will be exactly who they claim to be.  But it is worth being alert to the possibility that the “official” in front of you may be a fake and checking their credentials.  Any genuine official will be able to show you identification.

If you are at home and someone calls unexpectedly, always check for ID.  If you have any doubts you could either ask them to return at another time on a fixed appointment made with their company or you could make them wait outside the door while you check their authenticity with their company.  Always look up their company number yourself rather than using a number they give you.  If they are genuine they will be perfectly happy for you to do this.

Beware of anyone who:

  • Refuses to show identification.  Any genuine official will be able to show you identification.  You would normally expect that ID to contain the name of the company that employs the official, an up-to-date photo from which they may be clearly be recognised and their name or employee number.
  • Tries to pass off a name badge as ID: This may well be a sign the “official” is a scammer.  A name badge is not an ID if it bears no photo, i.e. you have no proof that the person wearing that badge is the genuine official who is entitled to wear it.  It could well be stolen.
  • Tries to pass off a uniform as ID: Uniforms are not identification, as a fake or stolen uniform would incorrectly identify a criminal as an official.  Also, be alert to just how much uniform the person is actually wearing.  How many items of clothing really bear a company logo? Just the jacket (possibly stolen)?  Or does the jacket have no logo either apart from a (stolen?) name badge pinned to it?
  • Is not accountable: Their ID should identify which employee of the company you are dealing with, so that they are accountable.  This means an ID will bear either first name + last name or a unique employee number.  An ID with first name only – and without any unique employee number – may be a sign of a fake.
  • Acts in a surly or threatening manner: You would not expect a genuine official to act in a manner that is rude, surly, unprofessional or threatening.  That kind of behaviour may be an indication they are not who they claim to be (and threatening behaviour is a criminal offence).  If someone acts this way, call the police.
  • Claims you must pay an on-the-spot fine: There have been a number of scams where victims have been intimidated into believing they must pay a fine straight away.  Normally, there is a right of appeal for any fine you incur and a genuine official will give you paperwork relating to that fine and an address at which you may make an appeal.  If there is no paperwork or they insist you pay up immediately, be suspicious and call the police for assistance.  You may not only avoid becoming a victim of fraud this way but could prevent others from becoming victims.

Let’s all be alert to fake officials, so we don’t get ripped off ourselves and we also protect those around us.