Trading standards officers in North Yorkshire are taking part in a week of activities to raise awareness of the risks posed by dealing with unknown doorstep callers and to improve reporting of such crime.
Officers receive hundreds of complaints about doorstep callers every year, with reports of shoddy or unnecessary work, false claims and gross overcharging. In the worst cases, which often involve vulnerable and elderly residents, victims are targeted repeatedly over weeks or months and can even be driven to the bank by offenders to withdraw cash. Some end up being defrauded of tens of thousands of pounds.
This week, North Yorkshire County Council Trading Standards, in partnership with colleagues across the Yorkshire and Humber region and North Yorkshire Police, are taking part in activities to raise awareness of the dangers of dealing with cold callers. Officers are also looking for intelligence about who is out and about in the county carrying out such offending.
- Collecting flyers and leaflets posted through residents’ doors for property repairs, including roofing, fascias, soffits or guttering work, tarmac, block paving and resin works to driveways and paths, gardening and other property repair services. Collection boxes are at County Hall reception, libraries and supermarkets across the county. Residents are asked to write their postcodes on the leaflets to help to identify which traders are in specific areas. Copies can also be posted to: NYCC Trading Standards, Units 4-5 Thornfield Business Park, Standard Way, Northallerton, DL6 2XQ.
- Officers from the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Team hosted at trading standards, Operation Gauntlet, will visit businesses that supply materials and printing to offenders to encourage reporting of concerns and suspicious behaviour.
- Operation Gauntlet officers will also work with officers from North Yorkshire Police to carry out enforcement activities.
- Safeguarding messages will be shared with residents and community groups to help them to protect themselves and vulnerable relatives, friends and neighbours from doorstep cold callers.
In the past 12 months, the Operation Gauntlet team has successfully prosecuted 18 offenders for conspiracy to defraud, money laundering and fraud offences, resulting in prison sentences totalling more than 53 years. The offending has included:
- An 80-year-old woman from the Scarborough area who was defrauded of £94,500 over nine months by offenders who travelled from Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.
- An 80-year-old man from the Richmond area who was defrauded of £17,000 for roofing work and driven to the bank by the offenders in a van on three occasions.
- A tarmac gang that targeted farms and homes across Yorkshire, Humber and the North East, falsely claiming they were from Highways and had tarmac left over to carry out work at a low price. Threats were made when they later tried to charge a higher price and victims refused to pay.
- A gang from Staffordshire who travelled across the country targeting vulnerable victims for roofing and other property repairs. Victims were identified in North Yorkshire. The most serious repeat victims, from Nottinghamshire, were defrauded of over £50,000.
County Councillor Andrew Lee, Executive Member for Trading Standards, said: “Our trading standards team are committed to working with partners to rid the county of the scourge of doorstep crime. We know offenders target the most vulnerable. We also know reporting rates for such crimes are too low – we only receive reports from five to ten per cent of the victims of these crimes.
“We rely on members of the public coming into contact with these offenders to tell us and help us to protect vulnerable residents who may be more susceptible to these crimes. Our officers are ready to respond and have an excellent track record of bringing offenders to justice and returning money recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act to victims.”
Trading Standards advice is never to deal with cold callers. If you think you need property repairs, contact three, local, reputable businesses for quotes. Take time to decide whether to go ahead and who to employ. The best method of selecting a trader is to go by recommendation from someone you trust.
If you are concerned about someone calling at your door, or at a neighbour’s, relative’s or friend’s, report them to trading standards through the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06. The same number can be used to obtain advice about having property repairs carried out or to pass intelligence about doorstep callers. In emergency situations, call the police on 999.