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3 March 2015, 12:07 | Updated: 3 March 2015, 12:35
A campaign which aims to prevent elderly people from becoming victims of rogue traders has been launched by Essex County Council, Essex Police and Age UK Essex.
Be Sure at the Door aims to help potential victims – often elderly people – to avoid falling prey to rogue traders.
Community Agents and Age UK Essex staff will be visiting elderly people giving them advice about how to react to cold callers and how to spot a genuine trader. Staff from district councils are also helping spread the message.
Fridge magnets have been produced with three vital steps to follow if a cold caller touts for trade, as well as contact details for the Trading Standards’ Buy With Confidence scheme.
They are being distributed by Community Agents, Age UK Essex, Essex Police and some district councils. They are also available from GP surgeries and Essex libraries.
Last year, five members of a rogue trader gang were between them jailed for over 27 years and another was given a suspended prison sentence after and Essex Trading Standards and Essex Police investigation.
The men were prosecuted for offences against 18 elderly victims in the Colchester and Clacton area, who together had more than £1 million stolen from them. The gang told their victims they needed more and more work done, in some cases draining their victims’ life savings.
Just this year, a 58-year-old man who cares for his 98-year-old father contacted Essex Trading Standards after he paid nearly £7,000 for three jobs at his home in Hadleigh before he realised he was the victim of a rogue trader gang.
“They were very clever," he said.
"There were three characters. The first guy softened me up, and claimed to know everyone in the neighbourhood.
"They glean bits of information about you and your neighbours to make you trust them. The big boss was physically intimidating. He was very in-your-face, talking very, very quickly “Del-boy” style and he caught me in the frenzy of his selling style. Then there was the builder, who was nice as pie.”
The gang persuaded the man, who wants to remain anonymous, to pay £3,000 for repairs to his flat roof, £1,900 to fix ridge tiles on his garage and £2,000 to mend cracks on an asbestos roof.
He saw an article about a rogue trader in Canvey Island and realised that he too was a victim and contacted Essex Trading Standards.
“The more it goes on, the harder it is to back down and say no," he said.
"I felt really ashamed. I couldn’t sleep properly and it exacerbated my blood pressure and depression problems.”
Cllr Roger Walters, Essex County Council Trading Standards lead, said: “Never do business with cold callers offering household maintenance and repairs. Trading Standards staff are experienced in dealing with residents who have been targeted by these criminals and residents should not be embarrassed or afraid to get in touch.
“Only use traders who have registered with the Buy With Confidence scheme. Check online at www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk or ring 08454 040506.”
Det Supt Keith Davies, Head of Serious Economic Crime at Essex Police, said: “These gangs are known to target and groom elderly victims in order to steal their life savings.
“They leave many of their victims penniless and they often show no remorse whatsoever for the suffering and hardship they cause in order to line their own pockets.
“There can be no complacency around the scale of this type of fraud and I would urge the friends and family of any vulnerable elderly people to help protect them from these predators.”
Andrew Gardner, Chief Executive of Age UK Essex, said: "It's incredibly important to give older people the confidence to say no to cold callers who knock on their door and this project aims to do just that. We're very pleased to be able to support the Be Sure At The Door campaign and raise awareness of the tactics rogue traders use to target vulnerable people in our community."
The Trading Standards Institute has produced this video which highlights what to look out for if you think your elderly relative or neighbour is a victim of rogue traders:
Advice For Potential Victims
Rogue traders often pick on vulnerable residents, often older people. They call on them and offer to carry out household repairs, such as to roofs or driveways. They have been known to call round after storms or flooding.
Very often they are very persuasive and may seem friendly. They may claim to know and to have done work for your friends and neighbours, however, don’t be taken in by them.
You decide whether you need any work done to your house, not them. If you think they have a point and you do need some house repairs, contact a Buy With Confidence accredited trader and ask them to come round to give you a quote.
If ever you’re worried that you’ve been taken in by a rogue trader, don’t be ashamed, but let either Essex Police or Trading Standards know – or talk to a friend or relative.
Essex Police: 101 (dial 999 in an emergency)
Trading Standards Buy with Confidence: 08454 040506
A genuine trader doesn’t:
If you think you may need some household repairs: