North Yorkshire’s trading standards officers have carried out arrests this week of three men in relation to allegations of defrauding elderly victims who they cold-called for gardening work. The arrests formed part of Operation Rogue Trader, a national cross-agency campaign to tackle doorstep crime, and part of increased efforts by North Yorkshire County Council’s Trading Standards and Planning Services this week, to tackle cold-calling and the crimes that result from it.
The men, all from the Darlington area, were the subjects of an ongoing investigation by North Yorkshire trading standards officers into cold-calling activities within the county. They have now been bailed, pending further enquiries.
Operation Rogue Trader, an annual event, is aimed at:
- Delivering a strong enforcement message to rogue trading criminals, coupled with a robust prosecution of offenders.
- Disrupting rogue trading criminal activity.
- Developing good practice in dealing with rogue traders.
- Developing intelligence in respect of known suspects.
- Raising public awareness of doorstep crime and providing reassurance to consumers, thereby reducing the fear of crime.
- Promoting partnership working to disrupt rogue trader activity.
- Raising awareness of doorstep crime and its impact on victims amongst partnership agencies and organisations.
Trading standards officers, together with North Yorkshire Police, the North East regional police team Operation Bombay, Age Concern, colleagues in the county council’s library & information services and North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service, have also undertaken the following activities during the week:
- Established the county’s 400th No Cold Call Zone in the Thirsk area, to protect residents from cold callers.
- Advised older people’s groups and Age Concern staff and volunteers.
- Provided posters and advice leaflets to banks, to encourage their staff to report incidents where elderly or vulnerable customers withdraw unusually large sums of money from their accounts and which is suspected of being paid to doorstep offenders.
- Provided over 1,500 educational packs for delivery by the Council’s Library Services Home Delivery Service for housebound residents.
North Yorkshire’s Trading Standards have conducted a number of consumer surveys in recent years, to examine the extent of doorstep crime in the county and consumer’s views about doorstep calling. They reveal that reporting levels for doorstep crime incidents are very low; no more than 14 per cent of victims report to either Trading Standards or the police.
Trading standards officers have made every effort to improve the reporting figures through a series of initiatives over the past few years, including consumer education, the creation of No Cold Call Zones and use of publicity to highlight the issues associated with doorstep crime and successful prosecutions. Despite these efforts, a further survey for the Yorkshire & Humber region in November 2010 showed reporting levels had only increased to 18 per cent.
On average, North Yorkshire trading standards receive 260 complaints or referrals about doorstep crime incidents a year. If this represents 14 per cent of all incidents in the county, then around 1,850 incidents may actually be taking place annually.
The continuing low level of doorstep crime reporting is therefore of enormous concern to officers. For this reason they are hopeful that the success of Operation Rogue Trader, together with recent prosecution cases, will encourage more consumers to come forward with details of suspect traders.
County Councillor Chris Metcalfe, Executive Member for Trading Standards and Planning Services said:
This week’s activities form a major part of our continuing efforts to stamp out doorstep crime in our county. Residents should be reassured that we are doing all we can, together with appropriate partners, to stop criminals offending in North Yorkshire and to prevent the elderly and vulnerable becoming victims of this abhorrent behaviour.
Residents should be encouraged to report all suspicious traders to us immediately. There is no need for anyone to feel embarrassed about being defrauded by these unscrupulous traders. Reporting the matter may mean they play a vital role in helping us to prosecute offenders and also in preventing further consumers becoming victims of their frauds and scams.
Consumers can report incidents to Trading Standards via Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06.