National Consumer Week: Closing in on doorstep criminals
As this year’s National Consumer Week kicks off, consumer protection bodies are calling on everyone to be on the lookout and step in to protect older and vulnerable people from ruthless criminals who target them on their own doorsteps.
With at least 169,000 cases of doorstep crime now estimated to take place in England and Wales per year*, new research for the Trading Standards Institute, National Trading Standards and Citizens Advice** has shown just how exposed some of our most vulnerable citizens could be. Almost half of British adults (46%) don’t think their neighbourhood looks out for its vulnerable residents well enough and two in five of us (39%) know someone who is at particular risk and would struggle to spot a doorstep criminal or handle them assertively.***
The 2014 National Consumer Week sees the launch of the ‘Good Neighbours Stop Rogue Traders’ campaign, which encourages citizens to look out for signs that a neighbour or someone in their community may be being targeted by doorstep criminals and to step in and alert the authorities.
Doorstep crime involves criminals preying on vulnerable people – often older and living with ill health – by cold-calling at their homes and pressurising them into paying extortionate prices for unnecessary goods or services. The outcome is often botched jobs on roofs, driveways and gardens and the practice often sees victims being frogmarched into banks and building societies to withdraw large sums of cash.
But confronting doorstep criminals can be a daunting experience for traditionally polite Brits, with a quarter of those who admitted purchasing goods or services on their doorstep saying it was because they ‘felt sorry’ for the seller. And the figures reveal that 40% of us would be reluctant to speak to a vulnerable neighbour if we were concerned about work that had started on their home, for fear of being seen as nosey or interfering.
Throughout this week, community events will be taking place across the country to equip people to help spot doorstep criminals and to promote ‘Nominated Neighbour’ schemes which are available in many areas, while partners from banks, building societies, neighbourhood and older people’s charities and victim support groups are also playing their part.
This coincides with a massive enforcement effort spearheaded by the National Trading Standards’ Doorstep Crime Project Team. This includes a pilot scheme across Yorkshire and The Humber which has torn up traditional local boundaries to monitor criminals operating across different areas, an approach that has so far led to four arrests and 15 investigations. The team has also launched a series of training programmes for a range of partners including charities working with older adults, police forces and Citizens Advice call centre staff, and is working more closely with organisations such as the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to pave the way for further breakthroughs.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards, said:
“Doorstep crime continues to blight our communities and leaves many of our most vulnerable citizens scared, scarred and bankrupt. Tackling it is everyone’s responsibility. Our teams are working around the clock to find the crooks and bring them to justice, but many cases go unreported and often by the time we apprehend a gang they have done a lot of damage. We need to catch these people early and that’s why we need communities to get involved and look out for anything suspicious. Don’t worry about appearing nosey – interfere and call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.”
Jo Swinson Consumer Affairs Minister said:
“Our front doors are supposed to provide security and protection but for some criminals they are the perfect entrance through which to take advantage of those most at risk in society. Cold-callers offering unnecessary work, charging exorbitant rates or selling useless products are not just criminals, they are also damaging the security and confidence of the elderly and vulnerable. This is why we have made targeting doorstep crime a priority for the Consumer Protection Partnership and the focus for National Consumer Week.
“By bringing together Citizens’ Advice Service, Trading Standards Institute, National Trading Standards and Trading Standards Scotland we can educate and equip those most able to help. Neighbours, families and concerned members of the public can come to the aid of those who most need it and protect them against criminals at the front door.
“The Government is reforming consumer rights law to help people understand what their rights are and to protect them from dangerous parasites. This will help consumers know what to do to get their money back if they are pressured into signing up for something they don’t need or later regret.”
In July, the Trading Standards Institute launched the ‘Good Neighbours Stop Rogue Traders’ video competition to help raise awareness of the issue and is set to announce the winner today at City Hall in London. Meanwhile, Citizens Advice has launched new consumer education materials which give residents practical ways to spot and deal with pushy rogue traders at their door, which are available at: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/education_resources.htm. Trading Standards Scotland also has a series of activities planned across the week. All three organisations will be holding community events across the country this week to provide advice and guidance to staff, volunteers and the public on how to deal with cold calling criminals on the doorstep.
Leon Livermore, CEO of the Trading Standards Institute, said:
"Trading standards officers and police forces do an excellent job stamping out doorstep crime. However, we need citizens to help prevent doorstep crime from taking place in the first instance in order to prevent far reaching detriment from taking hold of an individual's life, and to prove to rogue traders that Britain's communities are out of bounds for their unscrupulous activities.
"Having witnessed firsthand as a trading standards officer the misery a rogue trader can inflict on a person, I am proud of the efforts of local authorities and the local Citizens Advice bureaux to drive this valuable campaign."
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“The doorstep invasion of rogue traders must end. People are being conned out of thousands of pounds in some cases. Citizens Advice and Trading Standards are working together to help victims of crime and to crack down on rogue traders to stop them doing more harm. Everyone should watch out for these rip-offs to ensure their local community leaves doorstep criminals out in the cold.”
Councillor Stephen Hagan, Chair of the COSLA Consumer Protection Task Group said:
“Doorstep crime is the top national priority for Trading Standards in Scotland, however, the number of victims coming forward to report remains extremely low. I warmly welcome the launch of the ‘Good Neighbours Stop Rogue Traders’ campaign, which urges communities to report any suspicions that rogue traders are operating in the area. Don’t ever hesitate to make the call, with your help, we can stand up to send the message that doorstep crime will not be tolerated in our neighbourhoods.”
Jim Maddan, Chair, Neighbourhood & Home Watch Network (England & Wales), said:
“Nobody wants to be nosey or intrusive, but at the same time you wouldn’t want your neighbour to be conned out of a substantial amount of money when there might be something you could do to stop it. A simple thing like saying hello and making polite conversation with a neighbour can make a huge difference.
“Many people who get scammed by rogue traders realise something isn’t right but don’t know where to turn for help or feel embarrassed to admit they are unsure. Some people are even afraid to tell their family because they fear losing their independence if it looks like they ‘can’t cope’. A friendly neighbour, perhaps of a similar age, could encourage them to open up if there are any problems – and what’s more natural than striking up a chat about some new garden or maintenance work they are having done?
“We want to encourage everyone to get to know their neighbours. Victims of scams and rogue traders often have their life savings drained and their confidence destroyed – yet this can be nipped in the bud by people like you helping to look out for and protect the vulnerable, and reporting anything suspicious to the authorities. We would definitely encourage you to take part in a ‘Nominated Neighbour’ scheme if there is one in your area – contact your local Trading Standards to find out more.”
For more information on how to get involved in National Consumer Week 2014 and #stoproguetraders, please visit: www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/ncwinfo
Signs an unwanted doorstep caller may be visiting a neighbour:
- A van is parked nearby with workmen in, on, or near your neighbour's property
- Ladders or scaffolding suddenly appear
- Noises such as banging, drilling, or chainsaws
- Trees are suddenly removed or pruned in your neighbour's garden
- Poor quality work visible on the roof, driveway, or property
- Your neighbour appears anxious or distressed
- Your neighbour leaves their house more frequently to visit bank, building society, or post office accompanied by a trader
For more information, including interview opportunities and case studies, please contact National Trading Standards on 020 7025 7570 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Trading Standards Scotland, please contact Laura Jamieson on 0141 577 3320.
Notes to Editors
* A project carried out assessing the extent of Door Step Crime in England and Wales showed that there are currently around 16,900 reports relating to DSC made to trading standards annually. Due to established low reporting rates, it is estimated that this represents only 10 - 20% of incidents that are actually taking place. So in fact, the true number of incidents annually is estimated to be 84,500 - 169,000. Examination of a sample of reports shows that average amount of consumer detriment per incident is around £1,000.
** Research was conducted via an online survey of 2,000 British adults carried out by ICM Research from the 15th – 16th October 2014.
*** In this instance, ‘someone at particular risk’ refers to an elderly or vulnerable relative or friend
National Consumer Week
- National Consumer Week has been running since 1989 and has covered subjects including second hand car buying, car boot sales, child care seats, quality of goods, safety, consumer rights, customer care and health and environment.
- This year’s National Consumer Week focuses on a different approach to tackling doorstep crime each day, working with partners in each sector to help provide guidance for and advice:
Tuesday: Enforcement – highlighting new efforts to clamp down on rogue traders and detailing recent investigations
Wednesday: Prevention – focusing on how organisations can step in to help prevent people falling victim to doorstep crime, including banks and building societies
Thursday: Responsible businesses – highlighting the role of responsible business and the effects of doorstep crime on reputable traders
Friday: Safeguarding victims: Examining the real effects of doorstep crime on victims and their families
About National Trading Standards
- The National Trading Standards Board is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board has been set up by the Government as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards.
- The National Trading Standards Board provides leadership influence, support and resources to help combat consumer and business detriment locally, regionally and nationally.
About Trading Standards Scotland
- Trading Standards Scotland (TSS) is funded by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) to undertake coordination and enforcement of cross boundary and national casework in Scotland.
- TSS works closely with National Trading Standards to ensure relevant information is shared.
- For any additional press enquiries, please contact Laura Jamieson on 0141 577 3320.
About the Consumer Protection Partnership
The Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP) was formed in April 2012 as part of a suite of changes to the consumer landscape. The current members of the CPP are: Citizens Advice, Citizens Advice Scotland, CMA, Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment Northern Ireland, Financial Conduct Authority, National Trading Standards and the Trading Standards Institute. The CPP’s objective is to bring together these key consumer partners within the reformed consumer landscape to better identify, prioritise and coordinate collective action to tackle the issues causing greatest harm to consumers. In essence, the CPP’s role is to ensure that CPP partners work together to tackle detriment more effectively than they could through working in isolation.