Fetcham woman, 84, loses £176,000 to rogue traders

A 84-year-old woman in Surrey has been repeatedly duped by fraudsters and conned out of more than £176,000.

Surrey Police said criminals "persistently targeted" the frail pensioner in Fetcham from September 2009 until June this year.

Det Insp David Cooper said it was a "sustained and merciless" fraud on a level he had not seen before.

He said several suspects were involved, but the woman was unable to give descriptions because of her frailty.

Police said the victim was first duped in September 2009 when a man who called himself Mr Matthews said her roof needed repairing.

He offered to carry out repairs for £48,000 and the money was paid, but it is not known what work was actually done.

Two months later, in November 2009, the woman paid a further £23,000 to the same man and then a further £10,000 to a Mr Sparrow who claimed he worked for an insurance company overseeing the work.

In January 2010, Mr Sparrow returned to the woman's house and said building regulations had changed. He demanded a further £48,000 which was paid by cheque.

Between January and April, the victim handed over three more cheques totalling £28,000. Then between May and June this year, the victim handed over £19,135.

Det Insp Cooper said the total amount defrauded was £176,135.

'Shocked and appalled'

He said: "This is a staggering amount of money to have been conned from an elderly lady, the kind of sustained and merciless fraud I have not seen before.

"Officers with many, many years of experience are shocked and appalled that during a six-month time span this elderly victim was persistently targeted by such heartless criminals.

"Due to the victim's frailty we do not have descriptions of the suspects involved but I am appealing to anyone with a conscience to come forward with the names of those responsible."

He urged family and friends to look after elderly and vulnerable members of the community.

He added: "I cannot stress how vital it is friends, family and neighbours work with Surrey Police in order to prevent further frauds like this."

Police also urged bank workers to be alert if elderly customers repeatedly withdrew or wrote cheques for large sums of money.

Image caption A directory of vetted traders is available from trading standards

In June, Surrey trading standards also reported a large increase in the numbers of pensioners and vulnerable home owners being repeatedly targeted by rogue traders.

Investigators said once a victim had been singled out, they could often be targeted by a number of different criminals.

Neil McLoughlin, from the Surrey Rapid Action team, which responds to complaints about rogue traders, said the problem was often worse in the summer.

"During the summer, if the weather's good, they don't mind pretending to work, take their shirt off, get a tan," he said.

He said offenders could then take their victim to the bank and "get their whole life savings".

He added: "They're not limited to what they might find in that house if they trick their way in."

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