The Office of Fair Trading are launching a campaign against doorstep selling today.

You might think it isn’t a problem, around 96% of people claim they would never use a doorstep trader; however, around 25% admit that they might be tempted in some circumstances to have work carried out straight away.

It’s these people that rogue traders target, knowing that by creating a pressure situation (even if that pressure is not apparent to their victim) they can improve their chances of a successful con. Last year there were over 12,000 complaints about doorstep callers and over 5,000 of these related to house maintenance. But that’s the tip of the iceberg, there are clearly hundreds of thousands that don’t complain. And a real problem of under-reporting from those who fall victim. One story I heard recently from elsewhere in the country was of a former senior police officer who had lost tens of thousands of pounds but was too embarrassed of falling victim to report it.

The council and police partnership are very proactive in tackling this problem (I recently posted about Operation Liberal) and are continuing to look at how we can tackle it. The OFT campaign is designed to complement the work taking place locally so keep an eye out for it.

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.