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New ‘Scambuster’ teams announced

They'll target cowboy builders and cold-call cons

New ‘scambuster’ teams are to go to war on cowboy builders, cold-call conmen, rogue traders and e-mail swindlers, it has been announced.

Following successful pilots which are estimated to have saved consumers £3 million over the past year, Business Secretary John Hutton yesterday announced funding totalling £7.5 million to set up scambuster teams across Britain.

The specialist teams of trading standards officers will work with police and – unlike their council counterparts – will be able to conduct investigations across local authority borders.

Scams Awareness Month

February has been named Scams Awareness Month, and consumers are being warned to watch out for mass-marketed swindles – like dodgy prize draws – which alone cost UK residents an estimated £3.5 billion a year.

Scambuster teams have been operating on a pilot basis in the North East and Midlands, as well as a combined team in the South East, East of England and London, since September 2006.

They have already uncovered around £16 million worth of fraud, seized criminal assets worth £2 million and almost 14,000 illicit cigarettes, closed down 44 e-mail addresses and 24 phone numbers linked to national mailing scams and shut down 165 websites of suspected rogue traders.

Lean how to be scam aware with the Which? guide to spotting a scam.

Jail sentence

Among their successes are an eight-month jail sentence for a businessman who misdiagnosed damp in households in order to sell unnecessary damp-proofing work and a criminal Asbo for a kitchen salesman from the North East following more than 100 complaints that he had charged for work he did not complete.

Mr Hutton said: ‘Cold-calling fraudsters who prey on the elderly and vulnerable bring fear to our communities. We are determined to shut them down and bring them to justice.

‘These illegal scams cost people in the UK billions of pounds each year. Consumers deserve a fair deal, not to be ripped off or conned by the bogus sellers that give legitimate business a bad name.’

If you spot a scam, report it as soon as possible.

Scambuster teams

As well as extending the work of the pilot scambuster teams to 2011, Mr Hutton called on trading standards offices in other areas of England, Scotland and Wales to bid for a share of the £7.5 million fund to set up their own teams.

Ron Gainsford, chief executive of the Trading Standards Institute, welcomed the announcement.

He said: ‘The pilot teams have shown how an intelligence-led approach to tackling the worst offenders of these scams really works.

‘Many scams work across traditional authority boundaries and previously the scams would simply target a different part of the country and continue their scam until being caught. This cross-border approach is helping to tackle this problem.’

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