Criminal tradesmen 'come out with clever cover stories to get their hands on people's money' in pandemic

Cold callers selling fake Covid tests and over-priced face masks are among those driving an increase in complaints to Trading Standards over the last year.

By James Holt
Thursday, 8th April 2021, 3:38 pm
Updated Thursday, 8th April 2021, 3:40 pm

And authorities continued to record false driveway works, roof services and gardening services as other common reasons behind doorstep scams in Lancashire.

Trading standards confirmed that there has been an increase in the number of cold callers reported to them - 766 in the past 12 months compared with 730 in 2019-2020.

However, it confirmed that this dropped significantly in the first few months of the pandemic in early 2020, meaning there has been a higher influx of scams attempted in recent months as lockdown restrictions eased.

There has been an increase in cold doorstep calling in lockdown in Lancashire

Julie Waddington, Principal of Trading Standards Lancashire told the Post: "We are concerned about the scammers who are knocking on doors and taking that chance with people in Lancashire. Often, people don't get any documentation or an address of the cold callers so it is much harder to trace and investigate.

"They make people believe that they need works doing to their homes and often begin them straight away, leaving the homeowner pressured into accepting and paying for the works.

"In the pandemic, more people have been at home and there has been a much higher demand for property repairs and maintenance repairs because of the lockdown. Of course, this is open to abuse by cold callers who have also capitalised on the pandemic and added more scams such as selling face masks and Covid tests.

"When doorstep crime complaints come in, they range from reporting it to somebody actually becoming a victim. They are often hooked in, given a reasonable price at the door that may seem too good to be true, which is where problems escalate.

Trading Standards encourage residents to always say no to doorstep callers

"These sorts of attacks are often aimed at elderly people or the more vulnerable who are known to be in during the day. If anyone calls offering to sell goods or repairs, always say no."

Last October, one anonymous Preston resident received a cold call from a man claiming he was disinfecting the outside of houses because of the Covid pandemic on behalf of the council. After sending the scammer away several times, the householder eventually allowed him in and he stole a purse.

A woman in Bamber Bridge was cold-called and agreed to work resurfacing her driveway for £3,700 cash. She knew she had been scammed when the tradesman simply painted the driveway black and disputed the money received claiming they had only charged £400.

And just last month, residents in the Leyland area were warned not to deal with doorstep callers and to remain careful when they obtain traders they have not used before after a woman in the area posted a gardening job on one of these sites, and lost £1400 after the tradesman did a runner with her money and stopped answering her calls.

Lancashire's Trading Standards team encourage people to use recommended traders

Trading standards' advice is to always avoid cold callers, use locally known traders and get paperwork including full contact details so that investigations can be carried out if necessary.

Lancashire County Council's 'Safe Trader Scheme' helps people in the county find trusted traders in the area who are registered to the scheme.

Julie added: "We would still always encourage people to ask friends and family first for a recommendation and to google search locally known tradespeople. With the internet, there is a whole world opening up of new traders, so we always recommend using known and trusted tradesmen for jobs because you can never be too careful.

"We also suggest people get multiple quotes for the works and check online reviews before using any tradesmen. It is important that people get their quote in writing along with official paperwork of the quotes being carried out with their trading name. That's important so that people know who they are dealing with.

"Everyone on our Safe Trader scheme has been visited by a member of Trading Standards so we know who they are. We mediate between the customer and the trader, so it is definitely a way to increase the chances of finding a trusted trader.

"I would always still encourage homeowners to try local tradespeople first before going to external trader websites. We have certainly seen an increase in people using these external comparison sites, and they should still be used with caution.

"It is important that people don't feel pressurised into making quick decisions. Consumers first port of call for help and assistance is the Citizen's Advice consumer helpline."

County Councillor Albert Atkinson, the cabinet member for technical services, rural affairs and waste management, said: "At a time where the country has to come together, it's disappointing to see people trying to take advantage and profit from others. It's amazing what lengths these doorstep traders will go to.

"They come out with clever cover stories to get their hands on people's money and as the case of the Covid disinfectant fraudster scam shows, they are relentless in their efforts, sometimes coming back time and time again until they get what they want.

"Always say no to cold callers, use local known traders and use recommendation services like our Lancashire Safe Trader Scheme. We'll continue to make sure that these attempts for scam services are uncovered as soon as we possibly can.

"Talk to friends or family members and try and keep to locally known traders, use recommendation services like our Lancashire Safe Trader Scheme. This service can help you find a trader in your area."

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Lancashire Police give online advice on how people can avoid being scammed both online and by doorstep callers on their website.

They also feature a page that tackles fraudulent activity during the pandemic and advises on ways people can be cautious before parting with their money. See more here.

Lancashire residents can stay up-to-date with the latest scams circulating in the county at the Scambuster Stan Facebook page or call Citizens Advice on 0808 223 1133.

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