Residents across the borough are being warned to be especially vigilant as the council’s trading standards team is currently receiving daily reports of doorstep crime.
In a joint effort with local police, the team is underlining previous messages urging local people to follow simple rules when dealing with cold callers at their homes.
- Don’t do doorstep deals with people you don’t know.
- Always check the caller’s ID if they claim to be representing an organisation.
- Don’t fall for claims that the job is so urgent it must be done now.
- Always get quotes from reputable companies.
- Don’t invite strangers into your home if you are alone.
The warm summer weather has brought with it a wave of rogues, scammers and con artists who – with warnings of dire consequences come the cold, damp days of winter if their offers of work are refused – are attempting to fleece householders of thousands of pounds for property maintenance work that, in most cases, is completely unnecessary.
Rooves are proving to be a popular choice among villains this season. Choosing an elderly or vulnerable householder, they claim that the roof is in urgent need of repair, knowing that it is unlikely that their victim is able to climb a ladder to inspect the roof’s condition, or the completed work, for themselves.
Residents have reported being taken for tens of thousands of pounds for repairs that, even had they been necessary, should have cost a fraction of the amount they were charged.
A recent case resulted in the victim being saved £7,000 when trading standards got involved, stepping in on the elderly resident’s behalf.
Other cases have involved washing, or applying weather-proof coatings to, the roof tiles, or instances in which cold callers have claimed that the building’s guttering and drainpipes are so badly worn they will not see out the winter: “Best to get them fixed now, before the bad weather sets in”.
Another outrageous case saw a householder asked for £450 pounds by a “gardener” claiming to be from the council. The householder had only £100 in cash, which he gave to the “gardener”, who took the money, got in his van and drove away – never to be seen again.
Distraction burglary is a particularly harrowing offence for the victim, as it happens within their home. The usual format sees a two-person team cold calling, claiming, for instance, to have noticed a problem with damp on an exterior wall. As the householder takes one of the team to see the “damp” room, the second scammer quickly rifles through drawers and cupboards, taking anything of value. The theft is often not noticed immediately, and days have been known to pass before the stolen items, or cash, are missed.
Councillor Hamida Ali, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice
“This is a great example of the sort of joint working our trading standards team does on a regular basis with the police, and the advice is to never do business with cold callers, whether they’re on the phone, at your front door or have contacted you by post.
“Always ask for identification, check it and then ask them to come back when somebody else is with you; and never accept their word if they claim work needs to be carried out urgently – get at least three quotes from reputable companies.
“Criminals look to take advantage of trusting, unsuspecting people and that’s why I’m once again asking that residents exercise care and report any suspicions of rogue traders or cold callers.
“It’s known that these criminals share information with each other; for that reason, I’d urge people to be particularly alert if they’ve previously been victims of doorstep crime or rogue traders.”
Detective Chief Inspector Richard McDonagh, of Croydon police, said: “We are working in partnership with the council to tackle these fraudsters and distraction burglars. We share information on a regular basis to ensure that key stakeholders are aware of emerging crime patterns and known offenders in order to prevent the harm they cause.
“Those responsible for these offences are targeting the most vulnerable in our community with a complete disregard for the long-term impact of their actions.
“Please don’t take those who present themselves at your door offering a trade or service at face value. I would also ask that suspicious activity is reported to police and trading standards.”
Anybody contacted by somebody claiming to be a council officer – in person, by telephone or letter – can check their identity by calling the local authority concerned; the number of Croydon Council’s call centre is 020 8726 6000. Residents should not use any number suggested by the caller; they should call only the council’s listed number to confirm an officer’s details.
Reputable traders – vetted and approved by independent assessors – can be found via websites such as www.trustmark.org.uk and http://trustedtraders.which.co.uk
Non-urgent issues can be reported to the police by calling 101. In the event of an emergency, always dial 999.