How to keep conmen out

Oxford Mail: Richard Baker is one of the Anchor Staying Put team helping elderly and disabled people in Oxfordshire with small repair jobs Richard Baker is one of the Anchor Staying Put team helping elderly and disabled people in Oxfordshire with small repair jobs

This week, the Oxford Mail is running a campaign to lock out the distraction burglar.

Today, we speak to another victim and a charity which can help elderly people avoid getting conned by dodgy workmen.

Many cold callers rip off elderly and vulnerable by making them pay for repairs to their home which do not need to be carried out.

Victims have paid cash at the door or cheques totalling hundreds or thousands of pounds to the doorstep conmen.

Between April and December last year, Oxfordshire Trading Standards estimate £150,000 was paid out by people in the county to unscrupulous traders.

To stop this happening, the Anchor Trust's Staying Put charity - which operates with local councils - offers cheap home maintenance to anyone living in Oxfordshire who is disabled or aged over 60.

The qualified handymen come approved by local councils, and on appointment can tackle anything from carpentry to plumbing, hanging curtains or moving furniture.

They can also fit security chains, key safes, fireproof letter boxes and guttering on bungalows.

Residents can also use the charity's service for extensions to disabled facilities, installation of access ramps, roof repairs and pathways.

Jay Philcox, manager of Anchor Staying Put, said: "If a cold caller comes knocking on your door and you don't feel happy about it, don't let them inside.

"Anyone can call us if they need work done, so there is no need to hand over money to these people."

There are six handymen working for the service, offering reduced rates for the vulnerable. Bills for two hours' work are usually about £30.

Martin Woodley, of Trading Standards' rogue trader unit, said officers had visited homes where a doorstep conman had offered cheap work - then billed the homeowner for up to £25,000.

Mr Woodley added: "Just say no. Most of the time they have no paperwork, use a false name and have fake number plates.

"Most of these people are involved in distraction burglaries too, so if anyone offers work at the door residents should say no and get an official quote."

Trading Standards is now drawing up a list of reputable companies for elderly and vulnerable people to keep which they hope will also deter the doorstep conmen.

To book a handyman, call 01491 823895 or 0845 603 7285.

Meanwhile, a pensioner says she no longer opens her front door after twice falling victim to distraction burglars.

Joan Goodchild, 86, has lost £2,000 worth of rings after conmen targeted her home in Shillingford, near Wallingford, twice in two years.

The first time they struck, a man pretended he needed to check the stopcock under the sink while an accomplice ransacked through her bedroom.

Two years later, a youth convinced the widow he lost his ball in her garden and while she was distracted by him she was burgled again.

Mrs Goodchild said the two burglaries have left her trusting no one.

She added: "I think these people are despicable. I am now very wary of everybody, which I think is dreadful. I wasn't brought up like that.

"When I was young you were able to leave your doors and windows open.

"I cannot trust anyone any more. I have this awful doubt when anyone comes to my door.

"I don't open my door to anybody."

She has spoken out in support of the Oxford Mail's distraction burglary awareness campaign this week to help other elderly people avoid falling victim to doorstep crime.

She said she now only answered the door with a chain, and would not let anyone in her home without confirming their identification or if they had booked a visit.

She said: "At first I felt absolutely stupid.

"I should have had more sense and thought how pathetic it was for me to be taken in twice.

"I felt I was a fool and almost as if it was my fault.

"But both times they were so convincing."

In 2003, a man dressed in work clothes knocked on her ground floor flat claiming a kitchen above was flooded and he needed to switch off her stopcock.

While he fiddled around underneath the sink another man sneaked into her bedroom and stole five rings worth a total of £1,000.

The pensioner replaced the rings, but two years ago a youth knocked on her door claiming he had lost his football in her back garden.

She left her front door open as she went to open a communal door to let the youngster into the back garden.

While she was distracted a man ransacked her bedroom and stole the rings a second time.

She said: "The first time it happened, this chap said he was working upstairs to fit a washing machine and cut the wrong pipe.

"He said I was going to be flooded. He was very convincing.

"When I realised what happened I thought 'I'm not ever going to let that happen to me again'.

"But the second chap knew exactly what he was doing.

"He was very well presented and didn't seem suspicious at all.

"If he was some scruffy looking lad I might have thought twice, but he seemed genuine and was very convincing."

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