Sixteen people have been arrested in connection with a fraud that had been targeting the elderly and vulnerable in Essex. It is thought that 39 people were tricked out of up to £1 million in the scam.
So how did they persuade people to part with so much money and how can you protect yourself?
The Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate launched an investigation in December after reports that a gang was cold-calling people in Essex. The investigation revealed that between 2009 and 2013 the gang were calling round at the homes of people aged between 65 and 99, persuading them into becoming victims of the scam.
There have been no details on exactly what the gang was up to. A typical rogue trading scam involves an individual calling round, saying they are in the area, and then either offering to do work on a property, or scaring a homeowner into thinking there is something wrong with the property that needs urgent attention. Once they have a foot in the door, there are a variety of methods they can use to inflate the price from the original estimate, so they can take their victim for every penny they can.
ChargesSixteen people were arrested in Epping, Colchester and Clapton yesterday. Seven of them face charges ranging from fraud by false representation, to blackmail and conspiracy to conceal criminal property. Six people will appear in court today, one more will appear in July, and the remaining nine have been released on bail pending further enquiries.
Gary Beautridge, Essex Police assistant chief constable, said in a statement: "Over the past seven months my officers have been investigating a series of cases which appear to be the work of an organised crime group taking advantage of the elderly and vulnerable and exploiting them for criminal gain."
"The offences we are looking at basically amount to the financial abuse of the most vulnerable members of our society. The evidence would suggest that these vulnerable people have been groomed and then preyed upon by a group whose sole intention appears to be to line their own pockets."
Essex County Councillor Roger Walters, cabinet member for Trading Standards said: "The arrests today demonstrate that we will not tolerate the unacceptable and abhorrent behaviour of those who prey on the most vulnerable members of our community."
Protect yourselfIf you think you may have fallen victim to a rogue trading scam, or you are worried about a family member, neighbour or friend, then your first port of call is Trading Standards, on their national helpline 08454 040506.
If you are thinking of having some work done, then the best advice is to steer clear of cold callers at all costs. They may seem to offer knock-down prices, but there are hundreds of ways to inflate an estimate once you have committed to using someone to work in your house.
Instead, it's far better to use an approved trader. The National Consumer Advice service has a guide on how to choose a tradesperson, which you can get by calling 08454 040 506. You can also get a list of approved traders from Trading Standards or by calling 08454 040506.