It was a classic insulation scam. The conman had targeted a vulnerable elderly person, discovered a nonexistent damp problem in the loft, and claimed his product would solve it. In reality, it was useless and dangerous, more likely to cause damp than to remedy it. He had brought a card reader in his briefcase, and extracted the money on the spot.

It was pure luck that the victim knew an investigative journalist. By the time I rang the scammer, I’d discovered enough to put the fear of God into him. A few minutes into our conversation, he panicked and started telling me everything, including the name of the aggregation agency he uses, which collects the phone numbers of vulnerable people, rings them, probes their weak points and then puts them in touch with the appropriate predator, who pays a fee for the service.

As soon as the call finished, he repaid the money. But I wanted to stop him, and the agency, from operating. I now had enough information to help an enthusiastic investigator take down an entire network. So I tried to contact the county’s trading standards office, only to discover that it’s impossible. Contact with the public has been outsourced to a charity: Citizens Advice.

The people I spoke to were pleasant and professional. They recorded what I told them and promised they would pass it on. Three weeks later, I phoned again to see how the case was progressing. No, Citizens Advice told me, I had no means of finding out. Trading standards would contact me…

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