Johnstone’s View - Operation Monarda

This week, Police Scotland launched the imaginatively, albeit bafflingly titled Operation Monarda.

Operation Monarda brings together public, private and third sector organisations to help minimise risk and prevent harm to vulnerable and older people from criminals who commit doorstep crime. It operates as a preventative project, and encompasses engagement work with the general public, as well as enforcement work to target criminals.

Doorstep crime can occur in a variety of ways. Sometimes it takes the form of bogus callers, often purporting to be from a local council, charity collectors, a well-known firm or utility company, trying to get access to a person’s home in order to obtain personal details, including financial information. They might also distract the attention of the householders and steal money or goods, often by working with an accomplice.

It can also be rogue traders, turning up claiming to be bona fide workers offering to make repairs or carry out work to your home and garden. Too often, this work is absolutely unnecessary, and can lead to vulnerable people paying out for more and more work that simply does not need done, until sometimes, their life savings are gone. The behaviour of these rogue traders can also be intimidating or aggressive, although it may also involve an element of befriending the victim in order to facilitate repeat offending.

Some bogus workers may claim to be a member of a professional organisation such as the Federation of Master Builders or the British Woodworking Federation. Potential customers can check this out by calling the professional organisation in question or checking their website. I would stress that it is an offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 for anyone to lie about this.

The operation is all about raising awareness of this type of crime, and I thought I would use my column to help, especially with an ageing demographic, and the rural nature of the Mearns; an increase in the activities of bogus callers and doorstep crime is a possibility.

Alarmingly, in just six months between August 2014 and February 2015, more than 1000 incidents of doorstep crime were recorded across Scotland, with victims collectively losing around £400,000.

The sheer scale of the issue is further illustrated by the fact that last year, police in Fife smashed what is believed to be Scotland’s largest organised gang of bogus builders and doorstep criminals, who, it is estimated, had conned their victims out of a staggering two and a half million pounds. It is also worth bearing in mind that anyone can be caught out by these people, although it does seem as though people in their 60s are targeted.

There are ways for householders to be on their guard against these criminals; be cautious if someone turns up unexpectedly, and use a door chain. Keep the door chain on while talking to callers, and don’t be embarrassed to this; genuine callers will expect you to be careful.

Please do not feel pressurised into agreeing for work to start immediately with the offer of a ‘special, low price’ and don’t pay for work up-front.

If you do think that work needs to be done on your home or garden, don’t agree to buy from the first person who calls. Get at least three quotes from reputable traders and also ask people you trust for recommendations.

Please remember that for jobs over £42, traders are required to provide the consumer with a written notice informing them they have a 14- day cooling off period during which they can change their mind and cancel the contract.

There is also an excellent scheme called ‘The Nominated Neighbour Scheme’ which has been created to help deter doorstep criminals and protect older and vulnerable members of our communities.

The Nominated Neighbour agrees to help verify the identity of any person calling at your elderly or vulnerable neighbour’s door. As a Nominated Neighbour, the vulnerable or elderly person will send the caller to your door, and you can check their identity. If you’re happy that the caller is genuine, you then return with them to your neighbour’s house, and stay with your neighbour until the caller leaves. To find out more about the scheme, contact local police on 101.

The Mearns has always enjoyed a great community spirit and if we continue to look out for our vulnerable neighbours and report suspicious activity, we can severely curtail the activities of the vile individuals who seek to take advantage of others in this appalling way.