New "scambuster" teams are to go to war on cowboy builders, cold-call conmen, rogue traders and e-mail swindlers following the success of a West Midlands project.
Following successful pilots - including one based in Solihull - which are estimated to have saved consumers £3 million over the past year, Business Secretary John Hutton today announced funding totalling £7.5 million to set up scambuster teams across Britain. The specialist teams of trading standards officers will work with police and, unlike their council counterparts, will be able to conduct investigations across local authority borders.
February has been named Scams Awareness Month, and consumers are being warned to watch out for mass-marketed swindles, like dodgy prize draws, which alone cost UK residents an estimated £3.5 billion a year.
Scambuster teams have been operating on a pilot basis in the West Midlands and North-east, as well as a combined team in the South-east, East of England and London, since September 2006. They have already uncovered about £16 million worth of fraud, seized criminal assets worth £2 million and almost 14,000 illicit cigarettes, closed down 44 e-mail addresses and 24 phone numbers linked to national mailing scams and shut down 165 websites of suspected rogue traders.
Among their successes are an eight-month jail sentence for a businessman who misdiagnosed damp in households in order to sell unnecessary damp-proofing work and a criminal Asbo for a kitchen salesman from the North-east following more than 100 complaints that he had charged for work he did not complete.
Mr Hutton said: "Cold-calling fraudsters who prey on the elderly and vulnerable bring fear to our communities. We are determined to shut them down and bring them to justice. These illegal scams cost people in the UK billions of pounds each year. Consumers deserve a fair deal, not to be ripped off or conned by the bogus sellers that give legitimate business a bad name."
As well as extending the work of the scambuster teams to 2011, Mr Hutton called on trading standards offices in other areas of the UK to bid for a share of the £7.5 million fund to set up their own teams.