You’re not paranoid they ARE out to get you

Happy New Year and all that. I wish you a bright, shiny start. But some things never change. This very minute someone will be trying to scam somebody in the forecourt world. The one doing the rounds just before Christmas was fake £5 vouchers ’redeemable’ against JTI tobacco brands Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut, Old Holborn, Hamlet and so forth.

JTI UK confirmed that the above voucher is not provided by, affiliated with or in any way related to JTI UK and, therefore, is a scam. It advises all retailers in the UK, upon being presented with this voucher, to refuse to accept it as a valid form of payment and to immediately contact their local Trading Standards department. If CCTV footage of the attempted use of the voucher is available this should be retained to help any investigation that Trading Standards may wish to pursue.

Jeremy Blackburn, JTI head of communications, said that the voucher was only attempted to be used a limited number of times and only in the West Midlands to his knowledge. Perhaps the clue was in fact that the fake vouchers were in Gallaher’s name rather than JTI’s.

But I do wonder about that ’only in the West Midlands’. Police have confirmed in the past that petty crimes tend to trend and spread, almost by word of mouth. Then, when the whole world seems clued into them, they die out.

But this one has not died out yet, instead it’s mutated. As Forecourt Trader went to press, we received notification from Imperial Tobacco about a JPS voucher scam where customers have been presenting a voucher for £3 off products. Anyone presented with such a voucher is encouraged to contact either their rep or the Action Fraud hotline (0300 123 2040).

While some scams are very crude; others are surreal. You may have read reports about a wine merchant in London who seemed to be hypnotised by a thief who tapped him many times urgently on the arm and then proceeded to pick his pockets, getting away with hundreds of pounds.

As a long-term student of scams in the retail sector I was reminded of one that spread like wildfire a decade or so ago. It involved people (possibly blokes) in chadors (the long Middle Eastern cover up) arriving in droves and distracting the retailer so that one of them could slip upstairs/out the back to empty the safe.

Eventually some retailers claimed to be hypnotised by someone staring through the eye slit in the chador. Then the hypnotic ’customer’ just casually reached over and emptied the till.

Frankly I find the first hypnosis more plausible.

There are pressure points in the body, some of which can drop you in a nano-second if the thumb goes into the right point hard enough. Others can paralyse the arm and the brain therefore believes that the body cannot move.

I suspect that the thief was looking for the precise pressure point (and it is precise) when stabbing around the retailer’s arm with his finger. Once he found it, the retailer’s arm went numb and so did his brain.

How to lose your customers

Mr P (he doesn’t want his name used) rang to ask whether he could refuse to serve an impatient customer. Yes, you can refuse anyone you like and some you definitely should refuse; however, people do hate queueing even in this country where we tend to do it in an orderly fashion.

I did a bit of research and found a study that said people are happy to queue for up to five minutes and 54 seconds. After that, bye-bye store. Retail technology company Omnico Group says six minutes is the limit and even fewer in Plymouth where it is just under five. The most patient people are in Liverpool. They’ll put up with six minutes and 47 seconds.

Mr P’s customer is fairly regular but he shifts from foot to foot, sighs loudly if there is more than one person in front of him, rattles his change and then often just buys a paper. If he has the right money he just reaches around the queue and bangs it on the counter shouting ’right money’. I think you can live without him Mr P.

Futurama you couldn’t make it up

How about a hi-tech bracelet that reads your heartbeat to start your car? Never have to worry about lost keys again so long as you remember the bracelet.

The wrist band reads your electrocardiogram (ECG) and then can be used in place of a pin number or a password.

Apparently your heartbeat is more distinctive than your fingerprint and, since the device can take a reading without you having to interact, there are many possibilities for the future.

Bionym, which makes what it calls the Nymi band (pronounced ’nimmy’), thinks it could revolutionise how we shop and work. It says that the band will "change the fundamentals of how we interact with technology".

And for those who ask what about the rise and fall of the heart rate, it doesn’t matter the wave patterns remain the same. It’s pretty cheap too $79 to order.

The financial services companies have already shown interest.

I appreciate that this doesn’t have a great deal to do with forecourts yet. But one day.