VAN drivers are being pulled over for police spot checks as part of a month-long crackdown on bogus callers and rogue traders operating in Edinburgh.
The gangs of fraudsters generally prey on the sick and elderly, often defrauding vulnerable victims out of thousands of pounds through distraction thefts or by accepting money for work that is either never undertaken or left incomplete.
Police officers, accompanied by officials from the Department of Work and Pensions and Edinburgh City Council Licensing, are using the checks to ascertain the legitimacy of workmen in the Capital.
Sgt Keith Denholm was one of those speaking to motorists this week. He said: “We check a number of different things – whether their vehicle is properly MOT’d, insured and maintained, what they are carrying and if their materials are up to scratch.
“Should we discover something is not right, we have the power to impound that vehicle on the spot. We also check all of the vehicle occupants, questioning them on their business and whether they have the correct documentation, and also ensuring that no one is working illegally.”
Police Scotland say the measures have been well received by genuine tradesmen, a claim supported by those pulled over during a recent day of spot checks in the east of the city.
Neil Tickhill, 44, of East Lothian, who runs a concreting business with his son Boyd, 17, said: “This is the first time I’ve been checked and I’m happy to answer any questions – I’ve got nothing to hide, and it’s good the police are trying to weed out the cowboys.
“I would advise anyone to be cautious of people who turn up at their door claiming to be workmen – that’s not generally something a legitimate business would do.”
Over the last five months there have been over 60 offences involving doorstep con artists reported in Edinburgh, and police said those fraudsters could potentially have scammed homeowners out of around £10,000 had they not been caught.
Since the beginning of the year 17 reports specifically relating to bogus workmen have been made in the Capital, eight of those occurring since the crackdown began less than a month ago. Two people are currently awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to fraud charges earlier this week.
Police Scotland and representatives of Trading Standards have also been maintaining a presence at B&Q stores around the city and giving advice to customers on how to avoid being targeted by rogue traders and distraction thieves.
Crime Prevention Officer Steve McGill said: “There are some things the police cannot prevent, but there’s simple steps that can be taken to avoid falling prey to these people.
“A legitimate trader will have no problem with you inspecting their credentials, then asking them to wait outside while you close the door and make any checks or calls you deem necessary.
“No one should feel embarrassed or unsure about contacting us or Trading Standards if they are concerned.”
While anyone can be a victim of doorstep crime and bogus callers, the thieves do tend to target certain groups in particular.
Elderly people, the mentally and/or physically disabled, and the mentally ill, are especially at risk from the gangs, who have been known to repeatedly target people they consider to be vulnerable.
They often target homes with ramps and/or grab rails, and look for unkempt gardens, as this can be a sign the occupant is infirm.