GLOUCESTERSHIRE police are warning people to beware after an increase in cold calls to people from bogus bailiffs demanding payments for a “phantom” debt.

The fraud involves being cold-called by someone claiming to be a bailiff working on behalf of a court, attempting to recover funds for a non-existent debt.

Fraudsters are requesting payment by bank transfer and if refused they threaten to visit the people’s homes or place work in order to recover the debt that is owed.

A range of different businesses and individuals are being targeted.

Key facts about bailiffs

A bailiff is someone who has a legal power to collect certain debts. They may do this by asking you to pay what you owe, or by taking and selling your belongings to raise the money.

Bailiffs are only used to recover certain debts such as council tax, child support and compensation orders. Bailiffs are not used to recover debts relating to private advertisement; these would be collected by debt collectors.

Debt collectors do not have the same legal powers as bailiffs and will not have special court authorisation to act. If you're not sure whether you're dealing with a bailiff or a debt collector, check the Citizens Advice website.

How to protect yourself

Make vigorous checks if you ever get a cold call associated with a bailiff.

If you work for a business and receive a call or visit from bailiffs or debt collectors, be sure to speak with your manager or business owner first.

Never pay the debts yourself on behalf of the business you work for; some fraudsters have suggested employees do this whilst talking with them, suggesting they can then be reimbursed by their employer, when in reality the debt is non-existent.

Request details of the debt in writing to confirm its legitimacy.

Do not feel rushed or intimidated to make a decision based on a phone call. Take five and listen to your instincts.

Have you been receiving these calls?

If you have been affected by this, or any other type of fraud, report it to to Action Fraud service.