ROGUE traders conned the county’s elderly and vulnerable more times last year than in recent years. At least £864,000 was scammed by doorstep conmen in 627 incidents between April last year and March this year – the highest in the past seven financial years.
On Wednesday, crime reporter Ben Wilkinson joined Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council Trading Standards for Operation Rogue Trader, a nationwide doorstep crime crackdown
MAKING traders aware that police and council officers are on the lookout for conmen is a key point of today’s operation.
One of the scams is “gravel dropping” where gravel is dumped on someone’s drive and the owner demanded to pay up to £1,000 to remove it.
Pc Andy Neal said: “They will be very plausible but their intention is to rip someone off.”
One vehicle stopped during this awareness raising day is a van with a father and son on the A361 at Chipping Norton, flagged up on number plate recognition cameras.
Their documents are checked and the van was found to be overloaded, for which the driver was given a warning.
Five more vans and trucks were checked during the operation and three drivers warned about not having a waste carriage licence.
Hari Sangha, of trading standards, talks to the driver of the van overloaded with gravel
Martin Woodley, trading standards doorstep crime team leader, said: “Today was about getting out and about and disrupting potential doorstep criminals by intervening and making them aware we are on to them. Doorstep crooks prey on the elderly and vulnerable by using pressure tactics to extort money in exchange for shoddy work at vastly inflated prices.”
Pc Neal said burglars had turned to rogue trading as it was more lucrative and less risky.
He said rogue traders had been known to buy the contact details of the vulnerable from data firms.
But he said they also targeted houses which had signs an older person lived there, such as hand rails by doors or net curtains.
Ady Cole, an environmental officer at West Oxfordshire District Council, and Pc Andy Neal follow a suspect vehicle (at the front of the line of traffic)
He said since December more than 350 elderly women in the county had fallen victim to a carpet cleaning scam run from Bournemouth. In Oxfordshire, at least every day there is something going on,” added Pc Neal.
But he said the number of victims was likely to be much higher than the figures suggested, adding: “There are probably more people who are either too embarrassed or who are not aware they have been taken. It is a huge problem.”
And the officer said the conmen would often act nice to their victims so not to give the scam away. He said: “There are people who basically groom people.”
Elderly victims often went to live in care homes after being scammed as it took away their confidence.
He said: “Because the older people are more trusting it really knocks them for six.”
Penny Thewlis, Deputy Chief Executive of Age UK Oxfordshire, said: “Scammers and rogue traders pose a persistent threat to vulnerable older people and can have a devastating impact on their lives. Unfortunately, despite the high numbers of people affected every year, many still feel embarrassed about being scammed and as a result do not to tell anyone about it. This is a cause for concern as many people who respond to these scams can unwittingly identify themselves as open to more cons.
“Scams come in a variety of guises – on our doorsteps, over the phone, or by mail. It can be difficult to know how to handle these situations, but having access to the right information and advice can help us be aware and start protecting ourselves. “There are many sources of help and advice for older people and their families who are worried about scams – from trading standards and the police, who have real expertise in this area, and from voluntary organisations like Age UK Oxfordshire, Citizens Advice Bureaux and local advice centres.
DON'T BE A VICTIM OF COLD-CALLERS' TACTICS
THE elderly are being tricked into handing over their life savings in a scam plaguing Oxfordshire and the UK.
The so-called courier fraud con sees cold-callers ring their victims pretending to be police investigating a fraud.
The caller then tells the victim to withdraw all the money from their account and send it via taxi to London.
Eleven victims were tricked out of £39,500 in the first three months of 2014 in Oxford alone.
Cutteslowe resident Paul Fletcher, 63, nearly fell for the scam in January.
He said: “It was utterly plausible. They convinced me completely. I thought I was helping the police.
“I only sussed it out when he told me to take the money out of the bank and give it to a courier.”
But he added: “It is a terrible thing to do, especially as the older and more vulnerable are going to be their victims.”
Detective Sergeant Maria Banks, who is leading the investigation in Oxford, said: “They target them because they are vulnerable, easy and unfortunately very trusting.”
She added: “They don’t have any morals at the end of the day.”
Age UK says be sceptical before signing anything or handing over money. If an exciting offer seems too good to be true, think about the following warning signs and ask yourself if it is a scam: s Was the offer unsolicited?
- Do you have to respond quickly? What’s the rush?
- Do you have to pay for a prize or ‘free’ gift?
- Do you have to call a premium rate number (starting with 09)?
- Are you being asked for your bank or credit card details?
- Is the business reluctant to give you its address or contact details?
- Are you being asked to keep the offer confidential? Why?
- Don’t be pressured into making payments, particularly in cash, or signing any documents until you’ve had a chance to think about it, or discuss it with family or friends.
- Don’t be rushed or afraid to ask a salesperson to leave. If they refuse, call the police.
- Don’t be afraid to seek advice.
- Age UK Oxfordshire’s information and advice helpline is available on 0844 887 0005.