ROGUE TRADERS: Massive day of action to root out those who prey on vulnerable

POLICE and partner agencies stop-checked around 400 people today as part of a county-wide crackdown on rogue traders who prey on vulnerable people.Operation Rogue Trader involved teams of officers working alongside officers from Trading Standards, the

POLICE and partner agencies stop-checked around 400 people today as part of a county-wide crackdown on "rogue traders" who prey on vulnerable people.

Operation Rogue Trader involved teams of officers working alongside officers from Trading Standards, the Environment Agency, local authorities and HM Revenue and Customs to target known "hot-spot" areas.

A total of more than 50 police officers, and 20 officers from partner agencies, took part in the operation, which was part of a national day of action.

Areas covered by the operation included Peterborough, Eye, Cambridge, Sawston, Ely, Huntingdon, St Neots, St Ives and Wisbech.

Intelligence indicates that conmen who carry out building maintenance and resurfacing work are also responsible for offences including burglary, deception, theft, criminal damage and harassment.

They often charge large amounts of money for substandard or minimal work and steal from victims if given the chance.

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Police also believe the same bogus traders may be responsible for stealing construction machinery, while Trading Standards experts suspect they are flouting consumer protection legislation.

Today, officers carried out patrols in areas where so-called "cold callers" and rogue traders are known to operate.

All operational officers in the county were asked to provide intelligence for the operation and the force's ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) unit was in operation.

No arrests were made but various Trading Standards offences were uncovered, property seized and intelligence gathered.

Inspector Billy Bremner said: "The operation went very well and it was very successful in raising awareness of rogue trading activity and gathering valuable intelligence, which will inform future operations.

"This type of crime is particularly appalling because its victims are often those who are most vulnerable.

"Police and Trading Standards officers are tackling rogue trading and the associated crime as a priority and today's action was part of an ongoing campaign.

"It is a problem, not just in Cambridgeshire, but across the country and it is important residents contact us as soon as they have any suspicions.

"Our advice will always be not to use cold callers and to ask for a business card so you can consider what is being offered at your leisure."

According to Trading Standards, there have been 19 rogue trading incidents in the county so far this year. The total money lost in these incidents was £50,000, although more than £24,000 was also saved.

A further 19 attempted scams were reported, but no money was lost as residents became suspicious.

Cathy Inman, from Cambridgeshire Trading Standards, said: "Rogue trading often sees elderly people being charged extortionate amounts of money for very poor quality work.

"From previous incidents it is also clear that conmen will intimidate victims and take them to banks to withdraw large amounts of money to pay for services.

"We are pleased to be working in partnership with the police and we hope today's action demonstrates how seriously both agencies treat fraud of this kind."

Simon Langham, from HM Revenue and Customs, said: "It is important to ensure a level playing field for all businesses to operate in. Businesses who flout the law and fail to register with the tax authorities for VAT and income tax are gaining an unfair advantage over their competitors. It is only fair that everyone pays their share into the public purse."

Police officers dealt with traders suspected of committing crimes, Trading Standards officers handled issues surrounding trading standards or consumer protection and local authority officers made sure vehicles carrying waste were certified to do so.

Police also took the opportunity to check vehicles being used by traders to ensure they meet regulations and to ensure tools and plant equipment being used are not stolen.

People over the age of 60, or those with a physical disability or learning difficulty, are encouraged to use Cambridgeshire County Council's Registered Trader scheme. To find out more, call Age Concern Cambridgeshire on 01354 696677 or 01354 696650 or visit the county council's website.

The operation in Cambridgeshire was part of a national day of action which involved more than 500 staff from police and partner agencies.