Victorian London - Crime - Con-men - mock employment agencies


Sir, - The report in The Times of Thursday last of the case of a young man named Dawson, who ineffectually applied to Mr. Coombe at Clerkenwell police-court to assist him by causing the apprehension of a person on the alleged charge of swindling him of 10l. under pretence of giving him employ at a weekly salary, induces me to ask your permission to make some few remarks in reference to agency offices.
    Few, perhaps, stand more in need of the protecting warning of the public press than that poor and hardworking class who seek employ as inferior clerks or as domestic servants; they are constantly deceived and defrauded by unprincipled scoundrels who advertise good employ at respectable remuneration, provided parties can lodge cash security from 10l. to 100l. Sometimes an advertisement will appear offering employ at 18s. per week upon a security deposit of 10l. being made; at others the remuneration is 2l. or 3l. per week upon 50l. or 100l. being deposited; and occasionally the same scoundrels advertise for gentlemen with a capital of from 300l. to 500l., to engage in an agency of the most lucrative character.
    Indeed, parties are constantly coming to these offices who have been cheated and defrauded to relate their miserable tale - poor servants, robbed of their half-crowns, under pretence of telling them of situations; others, competent to serve as clerks or messengers, have been plundered of 30l., 40l., and 50l. and even larger amounts, the whole produce, perhaps, of years of saving, and the distress occasioned to these unfortunate persons is of most serious character. The law affords them little or no remedy; there is rarely a false pretence according to the law; the fellow who obtains their money adopts no fictitious name, he gives them the employ he agrees to give, but never pays them, and they of course quit on discovering the characters with whom they find themselves associated. The money deposited as security is, as per agreement, to be returned, and not being returned, becomes a debt; all that can be done is to sue for it, when, before judgment is obtained, the fellow has decamped, or, if not absconded, and execution is obtained, he pays the debt by going to prison. Only a few days since a notorious fellow of this class returned from prison to his office to renew his practices upon the poor and the unprotected.
    Offices of this character have latterly most alarmingly increased; there are those who having themselves been deceived, and seeing with what ease the unsuspecting may be duped, commence similar practices on their own account, and thus are multiplied these vile dens of imposition and fraud. The public naturally look to the magistrates for their interference to check so gross an evil; unfortunately, they are powerless to interfere, unless a false pretence can be proved when money is obtained. I am quite sure there is not a magistrate in this metropolis who would not most readily afford his assistance in any sufficient case that was brought before him; but the only way to put down such gross abuse is by the exposure and warning the public press is capable of giving.
    Those who are seeking employ should look with great suspicion at all advertisements requiring cash to be deposited as security; respectable persons needing clerks, messengers, and servants do not desire it; they would take the guarantee of one or more responsible persons; and the poorer class of unemployed who apply for situations as household servants will do well to make inquiry in the neighbourhood as to the standing and character of all agency offices before parting with their money to the proprietors. They will have but little difficulty in learning their real character; there is not one in any neighbourhood to which I refer, of a bad description, that is not perfectly notorious to the inhabitants, and regarded as a public nuisance. Although my pursuits are necessarily confined more immediately to the protection of the interests of traders, I venture to hope in this instance you will assist my endeavour to warn and caution against imposition a poor but most useful class of the community.
    I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
    Secretary to the London Association
        for Protection of Trade
10, John-street, Oxford-street, April 27

letter to The Times, April 29, 1850