April 14, 2016

Dave Maters fired off one last email, gave his in-box a parting scan, then logged off for the night. Grabbing his coat, he headed past an unmanned reception, out to the lifts, and down to the rain-soaked streets below. A quick couple of pints then home to Tesco’s chicken kiev and telly, he told himself, heading for the local Wetherspoons.

It was quiet for 6.30 on a thursday night. The distant hiss of car tyres on Church Street was the only sound to be heard. Or was it? Dave’s own footsteps had a not-quite-matching echo as he cut through Pyles Passage. Half turning, he paused to take a quick look backwards.

Was it Dave’s imagination, or did the man in the raincoat abruptly check his pace, and feign a sudden interest in his mobile. Maybe not… because as Dave turned and carried on, Raincoat Guy did likewise, keeping a constant 20 yards behind.

Dave’s own phone rang. Pulling it from his pocket he saw the caller ident OXFAM and decided, for the sixth time that month, not to answer. Should really just say no, he told himself, also for a sixth time. Distracted by the call, Dave forgot his shadow and soon found himself at the bar ordering a pint and a packet of peanuts.

Draping his damp coat over the unoccupied stool beside him, Dave made short work of pint one and the peanuts, then took a second pint over to the Deal or No Deal machine, which had his full attention for the next 20 minutes. His coin supply finally exhausted, Dave straightened up and wandered back to order one last pint.

The barman had just tipped change into Dave’s open palm, already turning to the next customer, when a quiet male voice at Dave’s side said simply: “Mate, can I have a word with you?”

Dave stared blankly, then the penny dropped. “Were you following me just now?” he asked.

Laughing briefly and humourlessly, as if to deflect the question, Raincoat Guy said “You’re with [company name redacted], aren’t you?”

“What’s that’s to you,” Dave countered uneasily.

“No, no. Absolutely mate,” the other conceded. “And, listen, you can tell me to do one, no problem. But how would you like to earn a bit of extra cash, or – if you’re up for it – maybe a lot of extra cash?”

And that was how it all started. He could have just said no. Could have warned his bosses. Maybe could have told the police. But he didn’t do any of those things – and before he knew it, Dave was in way too deep to back out: just one more lost-soul foot-soldier in the claims farmers’ underground army.

That’s right, People: national fraud agency the Fraud Intelligence Bureau (FIB) warned this week that “criminals are targeting insurance staff in pubs” and that “staff are being watched and followed as they leave their offices”, as sinister claims “management” firms struggle to get their evil mits on details of participants in on-road motor vehicle incidents.

A couple of extra quid for passing on a name or two might sound like harmless fun, but stealing sensitive customer details could cost you your treasured career in insurance or even land you in the slammer. So don’t be like Dodgy Dave. Don’t let anyone see you leaving work (wear a disguise or something, maybe, or go out the back way). Don’t tarry on your way home. Don’t hang around in Wetherspoons playing Deal or No Deal. And, above all don’t talk to random blokes in raincoats.

Follow these simple rules and everyone’s sensitive data can stay where it belongs and nobody will get hurt.

Of course, if  government had only listened when everyone warned them that banning insurance firms from earning a bob or two passing on RTA names and addresses would simply drive the practice underground.

Boy, has it ever done that!

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