A rogue trader who preyed on the vulnerable and defrauded 21 elderly victims out of £108,000 over almost two years has been jailed.
Following a joint investigation by Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards Service and the National Trading Standards South West Regional Investigation Team, John Carroll, 26, of Cricklade, Wiltshire, was sentenced to 38 months in prison at Exeter Crown Court on Tuesday 23 May.
Carroll, who had previously pleaded guilty to fraud, was sentenced in his absence – he failed to attend court after admitting himself to hospital.
His accomplice John Rice, 21, of Ceri Road, Swansea, pleaded guilty to money laundering and was jailed for 12 weeks.
The court heard that from July 2012 to May 2014 Carroll, who traded variously as JW Contractors, Westfield Roofline, Property Care Roofing and Building and Torbay Roofing and Building, advertised roofing and driveway services across the South West and South Wales.
He touted for business by cold calling his victims and advertising in local newspapers. He gave the impression of a respectable local trader by paying for telephone numbers with local dialling codes which then diverted to his mobile phone.
Carroll would frequently give a quote and then, as the works progressed, claim he had identified ‘extra’ problems. Victims often found themselves handing over thousands of pounds more than was originally agreed.
The real value of the work was often a fraction of the sum charged, while some work had not been done at all. In one instance an elderly man from Newton Abbot paid £7,500 for work worth just £170.
All 21 of his victims, some of whom have now died, were elderly and all said that the work was shoddy and overpriced.
Witnesses added that Carroll constantly changed phone number, used false names and addresses and didn’t tell them of their cancellation rights.
This ensured that Carroll could not be traced and customers were left with no way to change their minds, no come back and a work guarantee that was not worth the paper it was written on.
After the work was completed Carroll would frequently re-visit his victims under the ruse that he was quality checking the work he had carried out. In reality he was seeking opportunities to extract more money.
On one occasion he visited an 81 year old lady four times and conned her out of over £12,000 over three months. Having initially completed work on her roof, which supposedly had a 15 year guarantee, the lady contacted Carroll three weeks later to complain it was leaking.
Carroll claimed that the leak wasn’t because of his work and convinced her to pay a further
£3,800 to ‘fix’ it.
On subsequent visits he carried out work he had already completed, despite it being covered by a guarantee.
By March 2014 Carroll had paid more than £75,000 into his own accounts and took to asking for payments to be made out to Rice.
Although Rice had no dealings with the victims or involvement in the building work, over two months he laundered £28,950 of Carroll’s ill-gotten gains through his own accounts.
Judge May ordered an investigation to determine if either of the defendants held assets that could be seized and then used to compensate his victims.
Councillor Terry Manning, Torbay’s Executive Lead for Environment with responsibility for Trading Standards, said:
“Rogue Traders like Carroll ruin people’s lives. He targeted the most vulnerable and in many cases conned them out of their life savings, set aside for their old age, not caring if he left them destitute or not.
“This was an extremely complex case and our case officer worked tirelessly to gather the evidence that resulted in Carroll’s arrest, prosecution and subsequent prison sentence.
“I am pleased that our trading standards team have stopped Carroll from ripping off any more of our residents.”
Councillor Stuart Barker, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for Trading Standards, said:
“Rogue Traders are criminals who use high pressure sales techniques. Their work is often sub-standard or not required at all.
"They undermine legitimate traders who are trying to make an honest living. Our Trading Standards service and National Trading Standards worked exceptionally hard to bring this fraudulent trader to justice.
“The work they do to protect the people of Devon, Somerset and Torbay is invaluable and I encourage anyone who suspects they have been conned to come forward.
“I’m delighted that this rogue trader is being sent to prison.”
Councillor Anna Groskop, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for Trading Standards, said:
“Criminals like Carroll operate across county and council boundaries, and to effectively tackle this menace and protect the public and legitimate businesses we have to as well.
“If you’re thinking of having work done to your home please familiarise yourself with your consumer rights before agreeing to a contract.
“In addition we advise that you first ask for three quotations from different trades people and if you are looking for good reputable traders in Devon, Somerset or Torbay use our Buy With Confidence scheme.
“This will ensure you will to find someone we have approved and vetted so you can trust them.”
Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards, said:
“I am pleased that the hard work of the National Trading Standards South West Regional Investigations Team has led to these convictions and would like to thank the investigating officers for their efforts. These sorts of deliberate attempts to deceive consumers – many of whom were in vulnerable situations – will not be tolerated.
“I would urge anyone who is suspicious of work being carried out in their neighbourhood to contact their local trading standards department or the Citizens Advice consumer helpline.”
Notes to Editors
If you have concerns, need advice about your consumer rights or need to report illegal trading activity you should telephone The Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 040 506 or visit their website.
Businesses can also find advice from Devon and Somerset Trading Standards website or call 01392 381381.
Go to our Buy with Confidence website: https://www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk/
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About National Trading Standards
- National Trading Standards provides leadership influence, support and resources to help combat consumer and business detriment locally, regionally and nationally.
- The National Trading Standards Board is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board has been set up by the Government as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards.
- For more information please visit www.nationaltradingstandards.uk.