EXPOSED: The Conmen Who Prey on the Elderly

Article excerpt

Byline: James Salmon

ELDERLY and disabled people are being preyed on in their own homes by rogue salesmen flogging faulty mobility aids, such as stairlifts and scooters, at rip-off prices.

The scam is thought to cost British pensioners and the disabled millions of pounds a year.

Trading Standards has launched a nationwide crackdown on these firms, winning millions of pounds back for vulnerable residents over the past year.

Complaints have soared by almost a fifth, with Consumer Direct reporting 5,300 complaints last year.

Officers have found evidence of:

SALESMEN posing as social care professionals.

HIGH-PRESSURE sales tactics, including cold calls and home visits.

ROGUE firms closing down and relaunching under new names.

FAULTY goods, or ones unsuitable for older people.

MOBILITY aids being sold for three times the recommended retail price.

OVERBLOWN medical claims, breaching industry guidelines.

Hampshire County Council Trading Standards officers have recovered [pounds sterling]277,000 for vulnerable residents in the past year, while Bracknell Forest Borough Council has clawed back [pounds sterling]125,000.

In one case, a man in his late 80s was bullied into buying a [pounds sterling]5,000 scooter when he already had one.

An 80-year-old lady was cold-called and pressured into signing two contracts worth about [pounds sterling]13,000.

Leicestershire County Council issued a warning to locals after a spate of complaints from residents who'd been missold mobility aids.

Councillor Paul Bettison, chairman of Local Government Regulation, says: 'These heartless criminals are leaving people extremely worried and in a great deal of debt.

They must realise they will be caught, dealt with by the courts and punished severely.

People who target vulnerable members of society have no morals and will not think twice about piling on the pressure to ensure they get as much money as possible.

'The equipment sold is rarely suitable, severely overpriced and will no doubt come with a cancellation policy that is extremely hard to get out of.' Sharp practices revolve around sales of all mobility aids -- from bath aids to orthopaedic furniture.

Inevitably, most customers are elderly -- many are housebound, living alone and vulnerable.

Typically, these firms will coldcall customers.

An appointment will be arranged and a salesman will make a home visit.

The victim will then be subject to a hard sell, often being told they are being given a fantastic deal which will expire if they don't buy on the spot.

Some salesmen are even luring potential customers into a false sense of security by posing as social care professionals working for the Government.

Andrew Barker, managing director of Mangar International -- a manufacturer of mobility aids -- says: 'The private market in mobility aids has been left to the backstreet salesmen.

We've had many cases where these firms are posing as customers, buying products off our website and selling them on at vastly inflated prices -- often to people completely unsuited to them.

It's despicable.' Michele Shambrook, operations manager for Consumer Direct, says: 'Prospective buyers need to guard against the tactics of some rogue operators. …