OFFICERS scoured the streets to catch out rogue traders who prey on the vulnerable and cost Oxfordshire at least £370,000 a year in scammed cash.

All week, Oxfordshire County Council Trading Standards and Thames Valley Police have been collaborating on Operation Rogue Trader, a nationwide initiative to hunt down rogue cold callers and educate would-be customers.

In the year to March 2018, doorstep criminals across the county pocketed an estimated £373,000 from dodgy deals and scams, but enforcement teams believe this is just 'the tip of the iceberg'.

CASE STUDIES: Five recent victims 

While the majority of traders were working legitimately, officers issued 10 warnings to traders this week and warned that anyone could fall victim to scammers prowling the county with the sole purpose of ripping people off.

Jody Kerman, Oxfordshire County Council’s operations manager for Trading Standards, said: "There's a scam out there for everyone - we can all become a victim.

"Sometimes the difference is the lasting impact, whether it's financially or psychologically.

"Some people may brush it off but for others it will seriously affect their confidence and security in the home.

"They might be embarrassed that they've been caught out and worried what people will think of them."

Recent research suggests as little as one per cent of doorstep crimes are reported, meaning the actual figure could be much higher than the estimated £373,000 cost.

Intervention by the council's Trading Standards team saved or recovered £176,000 in the last financial year, but teams were out in force across Oxfordshire this week to prevent more innocent residents being conned.

After a spate of rogue trading offences in recent months, teams aimed to tackle the problem at its source through educating consumers and conducting intelligence-led patrols and raids.

Elderly residents are particularly at risk, with the average age of victims 75 nationally and 53 per cent aged 65 or older.

Mr Kerman said rogue traders looked out for signs of vulnerability, including handrails, ramps and homes or gardens in disrepair.

Last Friday, an elderly woman was the victim of a distraction burglary after answering her door to a man who said he was from the Water Board and 'needed to gain access to the property due to a leak'.

Cases such as this illustrate why Operation Rogue Trader teams put an emphasis on speaking to residents throughout this week.

The campaign encompasses several agencies and is coordinated by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) with Liberal, the Police National Intelligence Unit.

It began more than a decade ago specifically to target doorstep crimes, but has grown to proactively target criminal behaviour and raise awareness among the most vulnerable groups.

Around 30 police and 14 Trading Standards staff fanned out across the county executing warrants, conducting intelligence-led patrols and raids and educating frequently-targeted groups.

Teams carried out patrols in Kidlington, Banbury, Abingdon, Woodstock, Oxford, Henley and Witney, with 67 traders approached and checked and 10 warning letters issued.

The Oxford Mail joined the Witney team on Wednesday and saw two traders receive written warnings for not providing 'cancellation rights' to customers.

While this is a tell-tale sign of a rogue trader, Trading Standards stress this is more often due to not knowing the legislation.

Martyn McHale, an enforcement officer who led the Witney team, said ignorance rather than malice was the cause of 'nine out of ten' warnings that are issued.

He said: "We don't want traders to feel they're being picked on.

"Many traders do a good job and charge a fair price but don't know the legislation so don't complete the right paperwork."

"We can straight away identify those who know they're guilty as they tend to get more defensive.

"Some people assume we're out to get them but if they're legal that's the furthest thing from our minds."

Mr McHale led the Witney team and was joined by fellow enforcement officers Lucie Mellett and Russell Charland, with Sgt Chris Cochrane from Thames Valley Police.

They checked 11 traders through proactive searches of estates around the outskirts of the town and spoke to customers to ensure they were satisfied with the work being done.

Mr Charland said: "Our aim is to have confident consumers who know how to spot a rogue trader.

"I always ask vulnerable people to think 'does the work need to be done or can they do the work themselves?'

"Good traders tend to have long waiting lists, so they wouldn't turn up at your door looking for work."