I spent yesterday morning out with the police and trading standards as part of the national day of action for Operation Liberal.

Operation Liberal is the national doorstep crime intelligence unit, targeting things like things like rogue traders and distraction burglars. Doorstep crime is a real problem, with many of the criminals sharing information and considering a career, rather than crime. They target the most vulnerable in our communities (the average victim is 79) and take tens of thousands of pounds off them, frequently doing no work at all or even leaving people’s properties in a dangerous condition (in one case they left not only their victim’s house, but also the neighbour’s properties at risk of imminent collapse). A story from this site at the end of last year was about an elderly lady who was about to be ripped off for £16,000 after already losing £14,000 in a con a few years previously.

Yesterday’s operation in Wandsworth was two pronged, one targeting ‘white vans’ to ensure they were legitimate tradesmen and the other visiting houses where work was being done with police and trading standards to speak to the owner and builders.

The second also gave the opportunity to provide information to neighbours. A frequent tactic used by criminals is to claim to be doing some ‘work’ nearby (using the cover of legitimate tradesmen working at neighbours houses) and to have noticed some loose tiles or guttering that they can put right. By far the most popular approach, used by 40% of con-men and distraction burglars, is to be from the “water board” despite it being decades since water boards existed!

Hopefully their potential targets now know to be careful and who to contact with information if con-men do visit

In all the day in Wandsworth caught 10 offences, resulting in two confiscated vans and one arrest. A good result for the council and police. Nationally the figures haven’t been collated, but last year’s operation saw more than 200 arrests and £200,000 of property recovered and as a result fewer people getting ripped off – hopefully this year will have the same impact.

I don’t often (if I ever have) republish council press releases on here, but the one below is – I think – a great story and worth repeating. There’s something particularly callous about this type of crime, where the vulnerable are conned out of huge sums of money by criminals who are pretending to help.

A few things I want to pick out.

First is the warning: it’s is disappointing that we have to be suspicious, but there are a lot of rogue builders and various other con-artists out there. A genuine tradesman won’t mind if you check their credentials or ask for other quotes.

Second is the value of partnership working: we scored a major success here partly because of the quick thinking of the victims nephew and partly because of the great work between the council and the police in responding quickly to the call.

Third I have to congratulate the Community Safety Team: they have put a huge amount of work into this area and it’s fantastic when it pays off like this. I was being updated while this particular incident was taking place so know all the work that was put in both before, during and after.

If you have any concerns, or know anyone about whom you are concerned, contact the council’s Community Safety Division on the number at the bottom of the press release.

Rogue builders foiled in £16k OAP scam

The council’s crime prevention team is warning residents, especially the elderly, to be on their guard against rogue builders and doorstep con artists after a pensioner in Roehampton was almost swindled out of £16,000 earlier this week.

The woman was visited by two men who claimed to be builders and said that her roof needed urgent repairs. They said the job would cost £16,000.

It was the second time that the woman had been targeted in two years. In 2007 a similar scam ended up costing her £14,000.

Fortunately this time the fraudsters luck ran out, thanks to a long-standing council initiative designed to prevent burglary and con-trick victims being hit a second time.

When the woman was swindled two years ago, she was visited by council officers who advised her and her relatives on ways of avoiding a repeat offence. One of the solutions suggested to the family was to give one of her nephews power of attorney over her finances so that she would not be able to write cheques or pledge large amounts of money without consulting them.

So when the woman rang her nephew last Thursday to tell him she needed a cheque for £16,000, he realised something was amiss and called the council’s community safety team for advice.

Staff at the town hall immediately rang Wandsworth police and arranged for “a welcoming committee” of officers to wait at the woman’s house for when the builders returned for their money.

Community safety spokesman Cllr James Cousins said: “Thanks to the nephew’s quick thinking and the immediate responses from both the staff at the town hall and local police, these two con artists have been stopped from swindling an elderly woman out a large portion of her life’s savings.

“After the lady lost so much money to thieves a couple of years ago, her family was given useful advice by the council’s crime prevention team to try and prevent it happening again. I am delighted that they took that advice on board and used it not only to stop this money being stolen, but also had the presence of mind to contact us so that the fraudsters could be caught.

“This case highlights the importance of never agreeing to have any work carried out by workmen who tout for business and call at front doors unannounced.

“If this happens to you then there is a strong chance you are about to be ripped off. The work is usually totally unnecessary and the householders face being overcharged and sometimes bullied and intimidated if they refuse to pay.

“If any building work is required it is always best to get at least two written quotations beforehand from established and reputable businesses, together with a detailed specification of the works needed. People should also never pay in full until the work is actually completed.”

Householders are also being advised to refuse to give cold calling builders permission to get up on their roofs. There is evidence to suggest that once on the roof, the workmen cause damage to try and persuade people that repair work is necessary.

Cllr Cousins added: “Our advice is to not let anyone into your house who calls unexpectedly. If you do speak to them, do it through the door or from an upstairs window – and never agree to employ them to carry out any work. We would also urge neighbours to be alert to builders, in particular roofers, who turn up to carry out such work and to report any suspicions they have to the council or the police.

“We are working closely with the police to track down these con-artists, but we do need residents to keep an eye out for their neighbours – especially if they are elderly or vulnerable.”

The council is also appealing to bank and building society staff to be on the lookout for elderly customers withdrawing large amount of cash. They are being urged to try and glean what the money is being used for and if they have any concerns that it may be suspicious, to contact the police or town hall.

People wanting to report suspicious traders to the council should call (020) 8871 6603 and if possible provide details of any vans or cars that are being used, including the registration number, plus a description of the builder/workman.

Anyone wanting advice about home security or crime prevention can use the same number to speak to an officer in the town hall’s community safety division.