Warning over gangs of bogus call conmen

A new action team to target bogus callers was launched yesterday as police warned that organised gangs are travelling to Norfolk to prey on its elderly population.

A new action team to target bogus callers was launched yesterday as police warned that organised gangs are travelling to Norfolk to prey on its elderly population.

Police say conmen and women are using a variety of ruses to trick their way into people's homes or sell them shoddy goods and services often at extortionate prices. They tour towns and villages, seeking out older or vulnerable people, hoping their isolation will make them more susceptible to the scams.

Techniques used in the county recently range from selling fish, milk or power tools, offering building work or posing as officials from a local authority or utility company. In some cases children have even been used in a cynical attempt to get over the doorstep.

Throughout the summer, Norfolk police has issued a number of warnings about suspected rogue traders operating in several areas right across the county.

Now Norfolk police and the county council have joined up with other organisations in the hope they can drive out rogue traders. The number of crimes has actually fallen in recent months, but officers say many go un-reported as victims feel unable to come forward.

Chief Supt Tony Cherington said: “We know offenders in this type of criminality are ruthless and organised. We will be too. We can target them in a way that we have never done before and cause them real hardship.

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“The team will benefit from the combined powers of a number of partner agencies and will be able to deliver a knockout blow to anyone involved in such criminality.”

Other organisations involved include the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and HM Revenue and Customs.

Mr Cherington said that the new approach would allow the team to penalise offenders in different ways. For example, if there is not enough evidence to bring a criminal prosecution, action could still be taken to freeze benefits, seize vehicles or shut down operations entirely.

He added: “Those involved aren't just the stereotypical travellers; there are highly organised gangs who tour the country every day of the week making a living out of this kind of crime. Norfolk is particularly vulnerable because of its older age profile.”

The team has launched Operation Radar to tackle the problem and investigate heating oil and scrap metal thefts, as the victims of these crimes also tend to be vulnerable and live in isolated locations.

The police have recruited a team of detectives and intelligence specialists led by Det Sgt Pete Jessop. Along with officers from trading standards, the team will visit hot spots to help victims and warn neighbours of ongoing cons.

Mr Jessop said that it was important that anybody who fears they are being targeted gets in touch - even if their suspicions prove to be unfounded.

“My team and I, along with the partner agencies, will deal with those who are prepared to rip off the people of Norfolk,” he added. “We will proactively seek those who try to cone their way into houses and steal, or those who prey on the vulnerability of others.

“It is important we hear from anyone who feels they may have been targeted so we can catch the culprits. We want people to feel free to contact us to discuss any issues.”

As well as being targeted by the police, rogue traders will be dealt with by several other organisations.

David Collinson, head of Norfolk County Council's trading standards department, said residents should never agree to have work done, or buy goods from, someone that calls unannounced at their door, or approaches them on the street. Legitimate callers will always be happy to show identity or have their credentials checked.

He added: “We work in partnership with the police to rapidly head out and challenge rogue traders when we are informed they are at an address.

“We have also empowered neighbourhoods to help themselves - in setting up a number of No Cold Calling Zones across the county - where communities declare they no longer wish to accept traders calling at their homes without an appointment.”

Malcolm Crowther, a Health and Safety Executive inspector in Norfolk, said that many bogus callers and rogue traders fail to comply with health and safety regulations.

He added that action can be taken to check this. “This can include such things as having employers liability insurance and adhering to safe methods of work,” he said.

Intelligence shows that those offering building work are largely not registered waste carriers. Chris Hazelton, environment manager for the Environment Agency, said: “The material is often illegally disposed of, spoiling the beautiful Norfolk countryside.”

Simon Langham, from HM Revenue and Customs' hidden economy team, added: “This operation is part of our routine day-to-day work to tackle those businesses who cheat society by not paying taxes and undercut the honest traders.

“We are also keen to work with other agencies to detect and disrupt anti-social rogue trading.”

Anyone concerned about rogue traders or bogus callers operating in their area should contact Norfolk police on 0845 4564567. For further advice contact Consumer Direct on 08454 040506. Anyone with information about illegal traders can also contact the revenue and custom tax evasion hotline on 0800 788887.