Banks urged to stop doorstep conmen cashing in

By on 22/04/2010 in News

Trading Standards at Birmingham City Council are visiting local banks to educate staff to be alert to incidents where vulnerable people are being duped by rogue traders into withdrawing large amounts of cash for minor, and often unasked for, repairs.

The move comes as part of a crackdown by Birmingham City Council's Trading Standards against rogue traders, who use a range of psychological tricks to exploit money from the vulnerable.

Head of Birmingham City Council's Trading Standards Chris Neville has most recently led an investigation into a pair of Birmingham roofers who terrorised the elderly, leading one victim to believe that he would be killed.

As a result, Robert Bennett and Ronald Reeves have been sentenced today at Birmingham Crown Court. Bennett pleaded guilty on 3 counts and received 2 years imprisonment on each count, to run concurrently. Reeves pleaded guilty to 2 counts and received 12 months imprisonment on each count, to run concurrently.

Bennett (56) of Chestnut Close, Acocks Green, and Reeves (33), of Allcroft Road, Tyseley, were charged with 11 and 9 offences respectively of making unsolicited visits to elderly consumers and advising them that roofing work needed to be carried out at their properties, when most of the work detailed on the invoices was not carried out.

It is estimated that Bennett and Reeves had been operating the scam for at least two years. Their signature tactic was to “cold call” at elderly people's houses then manipulate the victim into letting them inside.

They would essentially then bully the victim into agreeing to have work carried out on their roof, gutters or chimney. They would then keep coming back and demanding money for subsequent work they claimed needed to be done. Officers discovered that the work detailed on invoices had not been done and that victims were being vastly overcharged.

In a witness statement to Birmingham City Council's Trading Standards officers, the daughter of one 89 year old victim from Yardley described her father's heartbreaking mental deterioration after being plagued by the pair.

She described how her father went from a happy, independent person to becoming a recluse who was obsessed with locking doors in his house. He became convinced that both his house and his telephone were bugged, and even asked her to take his walking stick away because he believed that it contained a listening device. He repeatedly talked about a van appearing and parking outside his house.

He became unable to sleep because he was convinced that he could hear people downstairs discussing killing him and disposing of his body. His mental deterioration culminated in him being found in the street by neighbours, wearing only his underpants and hiding behind vehicles saying that someone was trying to shoot him.

The impact of this on his family has been devastating, with his daughter describing how she would be reduced to tears every day during this period. Following medical treatment, his condition is now much improved.

Chris Neville, Birmingham City Council's Head of Trading Standards, comments:

“People don't understand the devastation that the likes of Bennett and Reeves cause. This is not just a case of claiming to do work and not doing it, they are causing psychological torment.

“Vulnerable people are being targeted in the one place they should feel secure, their home. That is why rogue traders cause such misery, as they are hounding victims at home, creating the feeling in victims that they can't get any respite from the worry they experience.

“Elderly people in particular can be very isolated, and have plenty of time to dwell on the fear caused by people like Bennett and Reeves, which is precisely why they use the tactics they do. They are truly despicable.”

ENDS

For more information please contact Hayley Meachin on 0121 303 1271/ 07920 750007  hayley.meachin@birmingham.gov.uk

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