Rogue traders target elderly in Exeter

Police are urging householders to be on their guard for a gang of rogue traders targeting elderly people in Plymouth and Exeter.

Detectives are investigating a number of reports of men calling at pensioners’ homes over Easter weekend deploying high-pressure tactics to carry out so-called ‘essential’ work on their properties. The victims have then been forced to pay thousands of pounds for shoddy and substandard work.

Officers are linking four offences in Plymouth in the last week and looking into similar reports in Exeter.

On Saturday 15 April, three men called at the home of an elderly woman in Prince Rock, Plymouth, demanding payment for repair work after claiming a roof tile had slipped and caused damage to a neighbouring garage. The woman, in her 70s, was intimidated into paying £2,000 with the gang even ordering a taxi to take her to the bank.

The same tactic was used on an elderly man in Prince Rock who was pressured into having his roof fixed by men cold calling at his door on Good Friday. The next day a man claiming to be from environmental health returned saying that his roof disrepair had caused extensive damage to a neighbouring property. He demanded £5,000 but the victim, in his 70s, could only give £2,000.

A third victim was targeted in Prince Rock between Thursday 13 April and Saturday 15 April when a man knocked on an elderly couple’s door and offered to do work on the guttering. They felt pressured into agreeing to the work and paid £2,000, three times the cost of what the work should be.

Three men also called at the home of a 74-year-old woman in Peverell on Saturday 15 April saying that her chimney was dangerous and needed fixing. They commenced work and the victim transferred £5,100 to their bank account. The men were ‘called away’ to another job and didn’t return, leaving ladders and other equipment behind.

Police are investigating the offences and seeking three men who are believed to be travelling around the area in a blue van.

One man is described as white, aged in his mid-30s, around 5ft 6ins tall and of large build. He has brown hair which is shaved on one side and a beard. The second man was white, in his late 20s/early 30s, around 5ft 7ins tall, of slim build and has fair hair. The third man was younger, in his late teens, around 5ft 7ins tall, of slim build with short fair hair.

Officers from the local neighbourhood team will be out on patrol in the Prince Rock and Peverell area today calling at homes to provide reassurance and crime prevention advice to residents about doorstep crime.

Detective Sergeant Phil Prior, of Plymouth CID, said: “We believe these incidents are linked and this gang is operating in the area so we would urge the public, especially elderly people, to be vigilant.

“Rogue traders often offer gardening work or maintenance services but the quality of work is substandard, unnecessary or overpriced. They often use persuasive sales techniques to encourage people into making hasty decisions.

"Bogus callers and rogue traders often prey on elderly and the vulnerable people, taking advantage of their trusting nature. We know that this type of crime is significantly under-reported and would therefore urge the public to be very wary of cold callers, not to pay any money to such traders and to report any suspicious activity immediately. Legitimate callers will not mind if you shut and lock the door while you verify that they are genuine.”

“We would urge elderly people to contact Age Concern who can make recommendations on reputable companies for maintenance and building work.

“We are also asking neighbours and family of elderly people to be mindful of these incidents and to raise any concerns about unscheduled building or maintenance work happening at their properties.”

Anyone who has any information about any of the offences is asked to contact police via 101@dc.police.uk or by phone on 101, quoting crime reference CR/028963/17.

For more information on how to protect yourself against cold callers: https://www.devon-cornwall.police.uk/advice/your-home/doorstep-crime/