Fresh bid to tackle doorstep conmen

A PENSIONER suffering from depression was conned out of £40,000 in one of the most shocking cases of doorstep calling the region has ever seen, it has been revealed.

A PENSIONER suffering from depression was conned out of £40,000 in one of the most shocking cases of doorstep calling the region has ever seen, it has been revealed.

The horrific details emerged as Suffolk Trading Standards announced unprecedented new measures to curb doorstep crime and protect elderly, vulnerable members of society.

The victim, who is in his 70s and has depression and memory problems, was pressurised into signing six contracts for unnecessary work – including the installation of an air vent – by the same rogue trader over a six-month period.

After each visit, the pensioner was duped into handing over a cheque for £2,000 and was eventually £40,000 out of pocket.

On one occasion, he was marched to the bank by two intimidating men and forced to withdraw cash.

There was no evidence of any work being carried out at the home worthy of the extortionate cost and a police investigation has since been launched.

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The shocking case is one of many revealed in a report to Suffolk County Council's caring and protecting committee, which sets out tough new measures to tackle the problem.

Doorstep callers are rogue tradesmen and women who either use pushy techniques to secure a sale for a particular product, or carry out work in an owner's garden or home that is sub-standard or overcharged.

Suffolk Trading Standards received 234 complaints about doorstep callers during 2003-04, which is a significant reduction compared to previous years.

However, along with the county council, the organisation wants to eliminate the practice altogether and has asked the committee to discuss a range of possible approaches.

Central to these is a proposal to appoint a new co-ordinator to oversee work to reduce doorstep callers, which would cost about £30,000 a year in salary.

There is also the possibility of setting up an early response team, which would involve trading standards officers being on standby so they can be sent out to victims of doorstep callers as soon as incidents happen. This would also cost about £30,000 a year.

To fund the initiatives, the county council would apply for cash from the Department of Trade and Industry.

Cllr Peter Monk, portfolio holder for public protection, said: "Some of the examples are horrific. It's disgusting and we have to stop it.

"The problem is we are basically crime-free, therefore the criminal and rogue trader tends to home in on our increasingly elderly population and think they are an easy touch and we have to protect them in all the ways we can."

Mr Monk said he was confident any bid for funding would be successful due to the progress the county had made with doorstep caller campaigns.

He said a co-ordinator would encompass all the agencies working on the problem including the police, the council and trading standards.

"We intend to take a very hard line on this. We have to stamp it out. These people are despicable."

The options, which also include training for bank staff who suspect a pensioner is being targeted by doorstep callers, will be discussed at a meeting on September 9.