THE amount of money lost to doorstep crime in parts of the West Country including Torbay has doubled during the past two years, according to new figures.
Council trading standards teams in Devon, Torbay, North Somerset and Poole and have reported increases in complaints from residents about rogue traders.
In Devon just over £50,000 was reported to be lost to doorstep crime in 2010, whereas the figure this year is already almost £100,000.
However, these figures are just an indication of the actual amount of money people have lost, which is undoubtedly far more as only a tiny percentage of doorstep crime is ever reporter due to victims being too frightened or embarrassed to come forward. Some victims of doorstep crime have told trading standards officers they feel they may be forced into residential care if they admit to being unable to fend for themselves. Criminals know this and also understand that elderly victims may not make the best witnesses.
The news comes as a national campaign to encourage people to say no to cold callers gets underway.
From now until Friday the Trading Standards Institute’s annual ‘National Consumer Week’ is aiming to raise awareness about the issue of rogue traders and the fact that refusing to leave someone’s doorstep when asked is a criminal offence. The clear message is 'Cold calling - Don't Buy It!'
The Trading Standards Institute has reported that last year, 12,000 complaints were made to the Consumer Direct helpline about uninvited doorstep selling. And since the Citizens Advice consumer service started some 7 months ago more than 6,500 complaints have already been received on this same problem.
In the South West region the most common complaints are in relation to household maintenance work, such as gardening, driveway work and roof repairs, and the victims tend to be elderly and vulnerable. Residents have suffered poor and sometimes dangerous workmanship, unfinished work, being charged for work not completed and threatening and aggressive behaviour. Victims also often suffer financial hardship, health problems, and emotional difficulties as a result of these cold calling doorstep traders.
Many consumers are not aware that when work costs over £35, traders must give them a written notice of their rights, including a cancellation form. Rogue traders will often choose not to advise their customers of their legal rights to cancel the contract within 7 days . If the trader fails to do this they are committing a criminal offence, and do not have a legal right to demand payment.
The campaign is highlighting tips for residents on how to deal with unwanted doorstep sellers and protect themselves against being conned by rogue traders, such as taking their time to compare other quotes, using local authority’s approved trader schemes , like 'Buy With Confidence' to find workmen and simply rejecting cold calling on their own doorstep.
The South West’s 15 Trading Standards authorities work closely together, with the police and other agencies, to identify and share information about rogue traders so intelligence isn’t lost when people move across borders. They also operate a regional enforcement team, called Scambusters, to work alongside trading standards services across local authority boundaries, focusing on the hardest to tackle scams and rogue traders.
Paul Thomas, Chair of the Trading Standard Partnership South West, explains:
“Doorstep criminals operating across the region will often go door to door persuading residents to have home building and maintenance work done, so it is important that we work with our neighbours to investigate reports and share intelligence.
“Through years of partnership working we have built up a powerful network of professional experience and expertise.
“Rogue traders should be aware that Trading Standards and Scambuster teams across the South West are working closely together and with the Police to crack down on doorstep crime.
“The figures we have on reported incidents of doorstep crime in the West Country are just the tip of iceberg, We need people to let us know if they have been a victim of doorstep crime, as higher levels of reporting mean we will gain intelligence to drive out this kind of activity.
“By sharing information and responding to offences we can ensure we make best use of all available resources to close the net on criminals and make this region a difficult place for them to work.
“Doorstep crime of any kind is totally unacceptable and often has a real impact on the victim’s sense of confidence and security in their own home. Rest assured that we will continue to work together to identify those involved, and bring them before the courts.”
The Trading Standards Institute’s chief executive, Ron Gainsford, said:
“We think there is only one way consumers can really stay safe from rogues in their own homes, and that is by saying ‘no’ to cold calling doorstep traders –particularly those offering home maintenance services such as roofing, guttering, gardening and work on the driveway.
"Consumers who need work carried out on their house should never take the word of a cold caller for it and should take their time, using their local authority's approved trader scheme to find a workman.
“With our ‘Cold Calling – Don’t Buy It’ campaign we want to raise awareness amongst particularly the more vulnerable consumers that they have every right to reject cold calling on their own doorstep – their home is their castle.
Consumers who need guidance on their consumer rights or want to report a dodgy cold caller to trading standards should call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06 – anyone feeling threatened should call the police on 999.