Dedicated Bishop's Stortford charity worker’s 97th birthday marred by phone fraudster
An elderly Bishop's Stortford widow was conned out of hundreds of pounds in a phone scam the morning after her 97th birthday.
The fraudster, who claimed to be calling from BT, stole £482 from Joan Abbott’s bank account within minutes of ending the call.
The great-grandmother, who lives in South Road, was targeted by the thief on Tuesday, May 7.
He called on her landline at around 10.30am. He told her that his name was Alex Martin and was calling from the number 0203 129 5568.
He asked her if she was happy with her telephone service and if there was anything she wanted to alter. He asked her if she had a computer; she told him she did not own one.
For the next half an hour, the unsolicited caller, who spoke with a thick Indian accent, fired a relentless stream of questions at Joan. “I told him I wasn’t feeling well and he kept on and on and on. I said ‘I can’t think straight’,” she recalled.
Initially, Joan was hesitant to answer his questions, but he wore her down and asked her for her debit card details. “I stupidly gave him that long number across my card,” she said.
Shortly afterwards, the caller hung up. Joan was suspicious and immediately contacted her bank, which confirmed that money had been taken from her account. She cancelled her cards.
“It was so stupid of me because I’m not like that as a rule. I’m really careful,” she said.
She traced the hoax call back and learned the conman had called her from the number 01483 237551, based in Worplesdon, Surrey. On the website, www.who-called.co.uk, other recipients of calls from this line have marked this phone number as 'dangerous'.
Joan first moved to Bishop's Stortford from Cambridge 86 years ago. Over her decades in the town, she has earned a reputation as a zealous charity and community worker. For the past 26 years, she has been a volunteer for Isabel Hospice and still helps out at the charity's shop in Bridge Street in the town centre, where she sets prices for the pottery.
The mother of four is also a long-standing supporter of the Royal British Legion; she has been a standard bearer, organised the annual Poppy Appeal and sent parcels and letters to soldiers overseas. She is also a supporter of Help for Heroes and has raised awareness of the plight of the Gurkhas.
Joan has received numerous accolades for her charity and community efforts; the Rotary Club of Bishop's Stortford gave her a Paul Harris Fellowship Award and, in 2010, she was named Volunteer of the Year in the Herts and Essex Observer Community Awards, when Indie editor Paul Winspear was at the paper's helm.
The day before she was targeted by the crook, Joan's daughter Lesley and son-in-law Ian had travelled from Cornwall to take her out for a birthday meal at the Coach and Horses in Thorley Street. She had a lovely time but said the conman had left a mark on her celebrations.
"I was so furious with myself," she said. "It's really taken the wind out of my sails."