Consumer series. Gloria Hunniford meets the heroic bank staff from South London whose quick-thinking actions saved their customers from callous conmen.
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One area of crime has been getting worse.
Too often it has a devastating effect on its victims.
I'm talking about doorstep crime.
We're celebrating the work of police and Trading Standards teams
from all over the UK, as they turn the tables on these law-breakers.
What's more, you've been sharing your success stories
and ideas for how to bring these crooks to justice!
On today's programme, the half-a-million pound rip-off
that hit victims across the West Midlands
This lady and her husband lost 35 grand alone!
It was very hard not to believe him at the time,
but that he could lie like that was just horrific.
Plus, the Neighbourhood Watch team fighting back against doorstep crime
in their Derbyshire village.
It makes me feel safer.
You're not worried there's somebody creeping around outside.
Best of all, I meet the heroic staff of two London banks
who went out of their way to save two victims
from paying out thousands of pounds to doorstep rogues!
The last thing I wanted was him going home,
and these guys still being there, without having any money.
You don't know what would happen.
Hello, and enormous thanks for all your emails!
As you know, we love hearing from you.
Now, Gill Wilmot from Nottingham says most reputable companies
don't usually carry out doorstep selling,
so her slogan is "If it's doorstep, don't!"
Now, that sort of advice would have been of great benefit
to a woman in Derbyshire who recently spent £1,200 on a chair
from a door-to-door salesman.
Then the chair never showed up.
It's one of the cases dealt with by Derek Weston,
a local Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator.
He's written in inviting us
to find out how he tries to protect his neighbours.
This area of Derbyshire has been repeatedly targeted
by doorstep conmen,
including the recent tragic case of an elderly local man
who died from shock after falling victim to a distraction burglary.
Although still reeling from the front-page headlines,
residents are now fighting back
thanks to Derek Weston of Doe Lea Neighbourhood Watch.
Neighbourhood Watch is set up nationally to reduce crime
and anti-social behaviour.
76% of the residents of the village
are now signed up to Neighbourhood Watch,
which means they have a sticker in the window.
It's obvious when you arrive that we are a Neighbourhood Watch area.
That in itself is a deterrent for crime.
Today, Derek is on his rounds
advising consumers about home security
and the threat posed by doorstep rip-off merchants.
Sadly, in December 2010, one of these rogue traders
targeted another elderly resident
and whilst she didn't want to be interviewed,
she's happy for Derek to tell her story as a warning.
This is the home of the elderly lady
that was a victim of doorstep crime in Doe Lea.
A salesman arrived unannounced, a cold caller
purporting to be selling special furniture for the elderly,
in her case, an elevator seat.
She said, "I knew I shouldn't have done it, but I paid him up front."
As I mentioned earlier, she paid £1,200,
but, the chair never showed up.
This lady didn't report it soon enough
and by the time she did report it, it was too late.
And the perpetrators are still at large.
So the message is, if it does happen,
report it as quickly as possible.
Either to the police or to Trading Standards
or to ourselves at Neighbourhood Watch.
Well, of course, cases like these have upset
and worried the community, so Derek's working hard
to ensure everybody can feel safe in their homes.
Happily, National Lottery funding
is available to Neighbourhood Watch groups right across the country,
and amongst many projects,
it has been used in Doe Lea, to fund home security.
Janet Andrews is housebound
and had security lights fitted a few weeks ago.
Derek is popping in to see how she's getting on.
-So you're happy enough with them?
-I'm very happy with them.
It makes me feel safer.
You're not worried that there's somebody creeping around outside.
'I felt quite vulnerable living here because of the back of our bungalow
'going on to the fields and the river and everything.'
Since we've had the lights fitted, we don't worry now.
There you go, it's great to know that something as simple
as extra lighting can help Janet feel safer
and ultimately improve her quality of life.
-All right, then.
-Keep twitching the curtain!
-Oh, I do, don't worry about that!
We'll check in again with Derek a little later on in the programme.
Now, here's another case of doorstep crime.
Hello, my name is Tania, and a couple of years ago,
I invited a builder in to do an extension for us
that went from bad to worse.
It ended up to be a total nightmare
and I would like to share my story with your viewers.
We'll discover the full story just a little later,
but first, a really heart-warming tale from southwest London.
As you know, doorstep rogues are out there, for sure,
but thankfully there are also plenty of quick-thinking
and community-spirited people who are taking a stand against them,
as I found out for myself!
This story concerns two pensioners from the Wimbledon area,
who were targeted in separate incidents
by cold-calling rogue traders.
Neither wished to be interviewed, but they're both happy for us
to tell their story as a warning to others.
A weekday afternoon in late 2011
and staff at this branch of a well-known high street bank
were going about their business as usual.
But things changed when an elderly customer came through the door.
I've come to see manager David Nash to hear about what happened.
David, perhaps you could describe the scenario,
the day this gentleman came into the bank?
He came up to one of my cashiers, he's a regular customer,
he would normally come in and withdraw a few hundred,
yet this day he wanted to withdraw a few thousand.
I suddenly thought, "There's something not right here."
The customer said that some men had knocked on his door that morning,
claiming that his chimney was in danger of collapse
and needed urgent repairs,
but they were able to fix it for him straight away.
And, by the way, they demanded a whopping £4,000 up front,
which they insisted the poor man transfer from his account to theirs.
When he said that, I knew that it was scam
and these people were trying to get money for doing nothing.
-And did you say that to him?
-I did, I told him.
How did he react?
He was quite pleased that I wasn't going to let him have the money.
I bet he was! But with the rogue traders waiting for the elderly man to return home,
it was clear that something had to be done, and quickly!
David immediately called Trading Standards,
who raced to the house with the police,
hoping to catch the rogues red-handed.
What happened to the man in the meantime?
I made sure he stayed in the bank. The last thing I wanted was him leaving, going back to his house,
and these guys still being there, without money,
because you don't know what would happen.
So I was very concerned for this gentleman
and I kept him in the branch while this was going on.
Unfortunately, when police and Trading Standards arrived,
the doorstepping con artists had disappeared into thin air!
I think basically what normally happens
is that if someone hasn't come back with the money,
these people scarper because they know something's happened
and somebody's caught on to them.
So, thanks to the quick thinking and kindness of David and his staff,
the customer was safe and, happily, so too was his £4,000!
Whilst it's great to see institutions like banks
working hard to protect consumers,
sadly, this was not to be an isolated case.
In December 2011,
Carmel Mullen was working at a different High Street bank
less than two miles away when an elderly customer came in,
asking to transfer a whopping £10,000.
Understandably, Carmel was curious.
She seemed quite happy to do the transaction
and during the course of the transaction I was chatting to her
and she told me it was for roofing.
Like our other Wimbledon victim,
this woman had also been doorstepped by a rogue builder,
only this time, she'd been conned into believing
that her roof needed a special waterproof coating.
He then demanded an incredible £10,000 to do the job.
And, you guessed it, he insisted she transfer the money immediately.
She didn't seem that concerned it was such a large amount of money
and from what it seemed to entail, it didn't seem to ring true,
so I wanted to run my suspicions by a colleague
and also just check with my husband, who is a builder,
just to see if that amount seemed reasonable,
which I personally didn't think it did.
Good for Carmel! It seemed her decision to query the story with an expert was absolutely right!
So when I spoke to my husband, he just said that there's no way
it should cost that amount of money unless she was living in a warehouse.
That's great, thanks, see you later. Bye bye.
Thanks to her hubby's top tip-off,
Carmel had a quiet word with the customer.
We suggested that we didn't want to make the transfer
and we'd like to refer it to the community police
or Wandsworth Trading Standards.
But it was a case of deja vu because, sure enough,
by the time officers arrived at the house, the gang had scarpered.
Well, happily, the help and support given by bank staff
probably saved those customers from losing a total of £14,000.
For Chris Roe of Wandsworth Trading Standards,
collaboration between themselves, the banks and the police
is crucial in the fight against doorstep con artists.
This is what makes the difference,
all parties pulling together
because we probably, a year ago, would not have heard of these,
nor would the police.
The bank would have probably paid that money out to the lady.
Now, at least we're aware of it, we know what the problems are,
and by working together, we can do something about it and prevent it.
I think it's quite comforting that the bank
will pick up on unusual amounts like that, it is monitored.
Is that general policy across the country, do you think?
Yes, I think it is.
As this has got a bigger problem throughout the country,
then more and more institutions,
not just banks, but building societies and places like that,
do pick up on and monitor it to try and stamp this out as much as we can.
Now although the rogue builders in both these cases
haven't yet been caught,
the authorities are still on the lookout for them.
In the meantime, the team at Wandsworth Trading Standards
have come up with an effective way of fighting back
and getting the message across to any potential doorstepping deviants
that they're not going to be welcome in this borough!
This is one of the Wandsworth No Cold Calling Zones,
you can see the sign up there.
This is part of the policy to try and combat these rogue builders.
Its good, solid, it's bright, you can't just rip them down,
and there's one at each corner of this junction, here.
So it's obvious to any rogue builder,
if they do call here, they stand out very much
and people notice them.
And, for these rogue traders, that's exactly what they don't want.
Later, how the tables were turned on one rogue builder
who took over half a million pounds from his customers,
leaving a trail of shoddy workmanship in his wake.
It was a daily battle
and it was embarrassing, it was embarrassing that he was doing this,
that we allowed him to do this to us.
It's time to return to Doe Lea in Derbyshire,
where Derek Weston runs a Neighbourhood Watch.
Now, he's got friends in very high places,
and they're just as determined as he is to end doorstep crime.
In rural Derbyshire,
Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator Derek is on a mission
to help his community fight back against rogue traders.
A crucial ally is Community Police Constable Tony Bagshaw.
Their weekly catch-up meetings help to ensure
that nothing in the neighbourhood is missed.
-All right, Derek?
-Come on in.
One of the things that's very obvious from how the police
can work with things like the Neighbourhood Watch
is that they then become our eyes and ears in the community,
they may see key issues or make a note of something suspicious
and pass it on to me when I'm next on duty.
It just may be that final piece of the jigsaw that we need
to get arrests and gain convictions.
Although a recent distraction burglary,
which led to the tragic death of an elderly consumer
has sent shockwaves throughout the community,
Tony is well aware that doorstep con artists are an ongoing threat.
One has happened recently where they've targeted a male,
gone to his property, gone onto the roof,
and, basically, convinced this person
that he needs essential emergency repairs to his roof
and convinced him to the point where he's given them a cheque for £2,000
and the roof was fine, nothing wrong with the roof whatsoever.
If someone comes to your door,
if you don't know them, don't deal with them.
Just say, "No, I'm not interested," and close the door.
Well, time marches on and with the meeting over,
Derek heads off to check on some more security lighting
being installed on a nearby house by trusted electrician Geoff Clarke.
He's a member of the Derbyshire Trusted Trader scheme,
set up by the local council to put consumers in touch
with honest and reliable tradespeople,
because, let's face it, the vast majority do a terrific job.
It's only a tiny minority who try to rip you off on the doorstep.
It's really important, especially for older people and vulnerable people,
to take a lot of care over who they let into their premises to work for them.
It's very windy weather today and there'll be damage to people's roofs,
and likely lads will be around offering to do work.
We know that if people use Derbyshire's Trusted Traders scheme
they will get legitimate tradesmen,
and get a fair job done for a fair price.
More and more local councils around the UK
are setting up Trusted Trader schemes
so it's always worth checking whether yours has got one.
I treat clients as I want to be treated myself, you know,
I wouldn't like to be ripped off and I've no intention
of ripping anybody else off.
All people want is a good job doing for a fair price.
Through the Derbyshire Trusted Traders schemes,
hopefully that will make things a lot better for people.
It's great to see the community rallying round
in the fight against rogue traders.
Job done, Derek hits the streets
because there are still plenty of visits to make
before the end of the day.
All I can say is, keep up the very good work, Derek! Well done!
Now, I've had a lovely email from Sally Grayshon,
from Greater Manchester.
She was burgled in 1999 and as a result set up a Homewatch group,
keeping neighbours in touch with news of any local crimes.
Sally says it has led to numerous other social events
like barbeques, parties, and lots of lovely conversations in the garden.
A growing community spirit, which I think is terrific.
Let's look at a story from the West Midlands,
where a rogue builder called Ronald Wright
managed to fleece a staggering amount of money from his customers
without finishing a single job.
Amongst his unsuspecting victims ware Tania and Alan Chuck.
In early 2005, they decided to build a two-storey extension
and after getting architects plans drawn up,
they were ready to go.
Now enter Ron Wright, but little did the Chucks know
that by this stage, Ron had already left eight customers high and dry
with unfinished work, despite taking their money.
He was such a likeable person, he created a trust.
He was just easy to talk to. He sold himself really well.
If nothing else, Ron certainly had the gift of the gab
and after the meeting,
the Chucks agreed a price of £35,000 to complete their extension,
with a payment of £10,000 in cash up front.
For the first six weeks, he worked beautifully.
Came in, did the basics, laid the foundations and stuff,
so there was no complaints.
After a flying start, things were going well
and under the payment scheme they'd agreed,
the Chucks now had to give Ron another £20,000 in cash.
But in August 2005, work ground to a halt and Ron disappeared.
We would phone, initially it started with,
"Oh, he's just building a little wall for another person.
"It will take him about a week and he'll be back."
And then, "Oh, his guys are working on another job,
"he has to, it's an emergency."
But as Phil Page from Trading Standards' Scambusters team
was to discover, this vanishing act was Ron's speciality.
All of these stories were consistent
with what we were hearing from other victims.
They have difficulty getting hold of him.
He comes up with one excuse after another about why he can't make it.
After countless calls and emails over the summer of 2005,
Tania and her husband finally managed to get hold of Ron,
who explained that his mother had passed away.
We made peace, he sold himself all over again and we agreed
he was going to come back and finish the structure off.
At the same time,
he negotiated another £5,000 out of us for windows.
It wasn't the existing windows for the extension, it was for the rest of the house.
He agreed he could do that for us easily, so we gave him the £5,000.
By now, the Chucks had given Ron £35,000 in cash
and almost six months after the project had begun,
work was back underway.
But wary from their previous experience,
the Chucks had tried to safeguard themselves against any further delays.
Clearly, they were nervous about giving him some more money
without some kind of security,
so they ask him to sign a contract, whereby they will give him the money
but there are penalty clauses inserted into the contract
if he fails to complete the work by a certain date.
And on those terms, they do pay him an additional £5,000.
Work continued, but with little more than the shell completed
and despite the clause in the new contract,
Ron was soon back to his old ways
and at the end of 2005, he disappeared once again.
Tania and her husband were left over the Christmas and the winter months
with a partly finished extension.
There they were, they were wanting this extension to be completed.
Ron had promised it finished in 12 weeks
when it had started in April.
And it was absolutely nowhere near being finished
and clearly this is not something you want over the winter months
and over the Christmas period.
By now, of course, the strain of the situation
was taking its toll on Tania and her family.
It was very stressful, it was demoralising coming home
and seeing the house look the way it did,
it was in your face the whole time.
It was heart-wrenching to be honest with you,
it was a daily battle.
And it was embarrassing that he was doing this,
that we allowed him to do this to us.
Tania and her husband continued to try and contact Ron,
but were stopped in their tracks when he told them
he'd been diagnosed with kidney stones and liver cancer.
Sympathetic to his situation, the Chucks stopped pursuing him.
But events were about to unfold which led to the shocking revelation
that not only was Ron lying about being ill,
but that he'd also lied when he told them his mum had passed away.
To use an excuse such as your mother's died, when she hasn't,
to get out of completing a contract is absolutely reprehensible.
It was very hard not to believe him at the time,
but that he could lie like that was just horrific.
Ron Wright was really the lowest of the low,
and with complaints being made against him all over the midlands,
it was only a matter of time
before Trading Standards and the police caught up with him.
Ron was actually arrested in December 2007,
as we executed a warrant at his property
in conjunction with West Midlands police.
He attended the police station and was interviewed by officers.
In those interviews, he basically gave us the same sort of excuses
he'd been giving his customers
as to why he'd been unable to complete the work.
Showed very little remorse at all for his customers.
It transpired that during a seven-year crime spree,
Ron had ripped off 18 customers by taking their money
and then leaving them with unfinished work
and a staggering bill to have his shoddy workmanship put right.
Ron had quoted £725,000 for the work he was to do
and those consumers had paid him over £560,000.
However, by the time Ron had finished and left those premises,
they still had to pay other builders over £600,000
to have his work finished, remedied, rectified.
A fantastic amount of money.
Since work on their extension began,
Tania and Alan have now spent £56,134,
but it's still not enough to put right the mess that Ron left behind,
so they're left with a constant reminder of this despicable man.
As you can see, five years down the road and this is still not complete.
It's taken so long to calculate and get in the money
and recoup what we had to repair his work with.
You can still see down here that the roof and this side of the wall
has not been insulated and completed.
We still need a floor, this is the original garage floor.
But there is still so much we need to do here.
A terrible situation.
Well, to assemble the best possible case against Ron,
Trading Standards spend over three years gathering as much information and evidence as they could.
And in December 2011, magistrates helped him perform
a more permanent vanishing act, when he was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment.
This sends a message to this type of trader
that you're not get away with it.
You will be caught, and, if necessary,
you will be taken through the legal system
and be sentenced appropriately.
It's reassuring to know that justice has finally been done,
but for Tania and the many others
who have lost tens of thousands of pounds at the hands of Ron Wright,
it's a small consolation.
I was happy but I was also disappointed.
I would have liked him to have stayed in there a little bit longer
or have a bit more severe punishment.
But at least 21 month gives him enough time to think
about what he's done and acknowledge what he's done.
Hopefully, he'll never do this again.
What an extraordinary story.
At this point we're due back in Derbyshire for one last appointment
with Neighbourhood Watch coordinator Derek Weston.
After a spate of doorstep scams, including the terrible case
of one elderly resident who was conned out of £1,200,
the village of Doe Lea is now fighting back
and it's Derek Weston who's leading the charge.
One of the other services we offer is a security survey.
One guy who heard about the tragic events a few doors away
would like us to do one, and we're here now this afternoon to do that.
Security checks are a crucial part of Derek's work,
not least because they help to reassure residents
like Carl Eggington.
-Hello, Derek. Come in.
-Security survey time.
Rogue traders are a particular worry for Carl
after his neighbour was recently scammed by a doorstep conman.
We heard about the incident down the road through the Neighbourhood Watch
and we were in touch with Derek,
to see if there was anything we could do, in the way of security, for ourselves.
Derek's first job is to determine how secure Carl's home actually is.
Straight away, I see you've got a modern, secure door, with a contact,
a spy hole, and this, very excellent, security device.
It does help because it is something, as you get a bit older,
you realise you aren't what you used to be and you need somebody
who can keep an eye out and help with any problems that come along.
Before he leaves,
Derek runs through an important security checklist with Carl.
Can I just ask you, when you lock up at night,
what do you do with the door keys?
We lock both the safety chain and the door itself.
-Then we put the keys away. Out of sight.
-Great. That's good.
We feel that we've done what we can to be safe on the doorstep,
and also that Neighbourhood Watch is helping us to stay safe.
So, it's been a long but fruitful day for Derek
in his ongoing fight against doorstep con artists.
These are despicable crimes, especially as they prey on
people who are vulnerable to the type of crime which is being committed.
With an amazing 76% of Doe Lea residents
now signed up to the Neighbourhood Watch scheme,
I'm sure that doorstep criminals
will think twice before targeting the village again.
When prospective rogue traders approach these doors,
they will see straight away they won't be welcome, and that's really good news.
Well, many thanks to Derek and all his neighbours for inviting us into their homes.
There's just enough time to read you Pauline Hogan's trick
for discouraging cold-callers,
she says, "If anybody knocks at the door who I'm not expecting,
"I simply say, 'It's not convenient.' "
Well, I suppose that's the diplomatic way of putting it,
but thanks for the tip.
I must say it's been fantastic hearing your stories
about how you've stopped doorstep criminals from ripping you off.
So, I hope you'll keep in touch with us.
The details are at...
Thanks for being with us today, I hope you'll join me again next time
when we'll do it all over again.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Gloria Hunniford finds out how viewers are fighting back against the doorstep conmen and rogue traders who rip people off in their own homes. In this episode, Gloria meets the heroic bank staff from south London whose quick-thinking actions saved their customers from callous conmen. Plus the seven-year crime spree of the Midlands rogue, who pocketed more than half-a-million pounds from his victims, before he was finally brought to justice.