As the snow came falling down two weeks ago, I almost had a fare to Southend Airport. After the closure of successive airports and cancellation of rail services due to the weather, would have worked out at more than £300.
Money was no object, to this passenger. As it was, the destination was changed twice and we ended up trying to locate a newly-renamed hotel at Terminal 4, near Hatton Cross bus station at Heathrow. It came out at a metred fare of £183 – and I was back in Abingdon in time for the afternoon rush hour.
Some years ago, though, I did actually drive to Southend, with a parcel which I had collected from a small independent business in Abingdon. Both the cost of the items in the parcel and the cost of the taxi fare were already paid in advance by credit card, so it was money already in the bank. Back then, it was my largest ever fare.
At a drab 1930s shopping parade in Southend-on-Sea which had clearly seen better days, I was to meet a person to hand over the parcel. They emerged from the shadows and asked me “you will be alright, won’t you, mate? You will get paid for this?” showing some semblance of concern for me, a taxi driver who for all they knew, was on minimum wage.
In retrospect, it was the first sign that something was not quite right about this transaction.
It subsequently transpired that this person was one of the final links in a reprehensible chain of turpitude, stretching all the way back to the other side of the world.
A credit card had been stolen in Western Australia, in the middle of the night. Before the victim was even aware, his details had been sent halfway around the world to the UK, eventually being passed on to a person who had successfully used them to buy small, high value items from Abingdon, for delivery to Southend-on-Sea.
The cardholder was eventually compensated. Ultimately, though, we were all conned: card holder, local small business, taxi operator, taxi driver.
Further research afterwards suggested that this is a scam which periodically travels around the small provincial towns of the UK, like Abingdon.
For these towns are much more likely to contain small independent businesses susceptible to this kind of act, than larger businesses not run by their owners, which can afford to turn away the work.
The old adage that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is, obviously applies.
But in an age of austerity, every sale counts for the small business and there are many threats to the self-employed sole trader trying to eke out a lving.
As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 14 March 2018