Police blame hit TV show after shoppers scammed

CON artists have swindled thousands of pounds out of victims in Edinburgh by using a scam which was demonstrated on the BBC show The Real Hustle.

Police are investigating a dozen cases where bargain-hunters were duped into buying a cut-price laptop that later turned out to be a bogus package in a “pitch and switch” swindle.

The trick is the same as one highlighted on the popular BBC Three programme in which professional scammers expose the shady tricks used to fleece the public.

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While the police are aware of the link, the BBC has denied its programme encourages criminality.

Since October, the scammers have netted at least £2500, but police believe this total may be the tip of the iceberg, with many victims too embarrassed to come forward.

Shoppers at Meadowbank, Cameron Toll, Leith, Portobello and the Tollcross area have been targeted by two men offering electronic items for a quick sale.

They are led to a nearby van and shown the product and, after agreeing a fee, the conmen then hand over a bag later found to contain cardboard and water bottles.

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DS John Graham, who is investigating the fraud, said he believed the scam had been featured on the TV show, fronted by Paul Wilson.

“I have not seen the programme but this [scam] was portrayed on that programme I believe,” he said. “There’s always a danger with television programmes that if you show criminal activity enough times you are going to show best practice to criminals.

“At the start of the inquiry, the first part of one of the documents I have seen said this modus operandi was shown on that programme.”

DS Graham added: “There’s a good chance they are the same group of people who are performing this scam in the west of Scotland and in northern England.

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“The victims are shown fake documentation relating to the goods and leave confident that they have made a bargain purchase. They are then left devastated when they discover that they have parted with their money for nothing,” he said.

David McLetchie, Conservative MSP for Lothian, said: “BBC Three seems to be running an open university for criminals as far as this show is concerned. The law-abiding viewers are going to have to pay as much attention to this programme as the criminals.”

A BBC spokesman said: “It is completely wrong to suggest The Real Hustle promotes criminal behaviour. This is a well-known real scam. The series sets out to highlight such scams and to give viewers all the information they need to protect themselves.”