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Oxfordshire householders stung by million-pound doorstep con
Pc Andy Neal and Martin Woodley, Oxfordshire County Council’s trading standards doorstep lead crime officer, out on patrol
DOORSTEP criminals are on track to steal £1m from the county’s most vulnerable this year.
Trading standards officials fear thieves preying on the isolated elderly in their homes will scam more money than in recent years as the crime rate rises.
In the first six months of this financial year, £594,676 has been stolen by doorstep crooks – far more than the £404,894 stolen during the same six-month period for 2012-13.
That amounts to 283 incidents so far in the county – also up on the 272 for the same period last year – while the amount of money scammed is set to, in effect, be the highest in years, once one-off cons where huge sums of money were stolen are factored into the data.
And if the worrying trend continues, as officials fear it will, then the £1m barrier will be smashed for the first time in recent history. Martin Woodley, Oxfordshire County Council’s trading standards doorstep crime lead officer, said more and more rogue traders were finding that exploiting victims on their doorstep was a quick way of making a lot of money.
He said doorstep criminals were “callous and cunning” – and advised people not to buy anything at the door. Statistics show doorstep criminals are also stealing higher amounts of cash each time they strike.
Figures show the average amount stolen in each incident so far this year is £2,101, compared to £1,265 last year. And most of the victims are elderly, the numbers show – with 152 of the 167 victims in the last financial year being over the age of 61.
Mr Woodley said: “There’s been a rise in cold-caller complaints which we are putting down to doorstep sellers trying to push things in the lead-up to Christmas.
“They also prey on issues, telling householders they need to resolve problmes that have resulted from the recent windy weather, such as loose tiles on roofs.
“They try to put fear into people by telling them that urgent work is required on their properties and appear to offer a quick solution by often saying that they could do the work there and then.
“It’s often the elderly and vulnerable who are targeted, and victims can feel pressured into taking on what is offered to them. It can be the case that a price is quoted that turns out to be far less than the amount of money that is eventually demanded.”
Mr Woodley urged anyone who had problems or information about doorstep crime to call police on 101. He added: “We need to hear about what is going on.”
- Lack of ladders a telltale sign of dodgy roofers at work
ON patrol with the doorstep crime team, the Oxford Mail was on the lookout for tell-tale signs of rogue traders.
We were in Wallingford, driving in the video-equipped Trading Standards car.
Martin Woodley, Oxfordshire County Council’s trading standards doorstep lead crime officer, said: “There will be lots of workers with very little equipment. Another giveaway is if they are walking around the roof with no ladders at all.
“All they want to do is get in and out as quickly as possible.”
He said doorstep criminals knew how to spot the house of an elderly or vulnerable person, and that their patrols focused on areas where older people live.
He also said people delivering leaflets were questioned about the work they offered.
Pc Andy Neal, seconded to the trading standards team, said rogue traders would befriend their elderly victims, who often had memory problems.
He said: “They just ingratiate themselves with them.”
The team visited an 86-year-old woman, suspected of falling victim to a £9,000 roofing scam.
Mr Woodley said: “This is one of the many people we keep an eye on. These are the people we are trying to help.”
The team asked her if she had had any unexpected calls or visitors offering to do work, and told her to report any incidents.
The woman, who did not give her name, said to the team: “It gives me confidence that you are keeping an eye on me.”
- Jailed pair got almost £100,000 from victims
TWO rogue traders were last year jailed for scamming county victims out of almost £100,000 over two years.
Jane Thomas fell victim to builders Trevor Bateman and David Merriman when they turned up at her Wallingford home and asked to do some gardening work. This soon turned into bathroom repairs and she was left with a £6,000 bill – despite the work being unfinished.
The 72-year-old said: “I have now learnt to say ‘no’ to people.”
Bateman, of Oakham Close, Swindon, was jailed for four years and Merriman, of Clifton, Nottinghamshire, for three-and-a-half years.
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