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A rogue trader who tricked an elderly Southsea resident into spending over £140,000 on unnecessary building work was sentenced on Friday (19 February) to 32 months in prison by a judge at Portsmouth Crown Court. Portsmouth City Council’s trading standards team, which gathered the evidence and brought the charges against Mr McCann, welcomed the sentence.

Following an initial cold call in June 2019, Michael McCann, from Poole in Dorset, befriended the victim, a lady in her 70s, and over several months encouraged her to let him carry out bogus maintenance work on her home. Between June and September 2019, the victim was persuaded to write cheques totalling £123,950 and to make £20,000 worth of cash payments to Mr McCann.

In delivering his sentence the judge noted that: “Mr McCann had targeted an elderly lady and used his charm to empty her accounts. The work undertaken was virtually worthless and will need remedial work. Mr McCann tried to use blackmail to stop the victim from taking further action, consequently the victim no longer feels safe in her own home.”

Portsmouth City Council was first alerted to the case by a Police Community Support Officer who contacted the trading standards team in November 2019 to report rogue trading activity involving an elderly resident of Portsmouth.

Upon investigation, trading standards discovered that only a small amount of unnecessary work had in fact been carried out on the victim’s home and that she had been misled and grossly overcharged. The council concluded that Mr McCann had committed offences contrary to The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and The Fraud Act 2006.

Richard Lee, Portsmouth City Council’s regulatory services manager, said: “We welcome the sentence delivered and are pleased that the court recognised the financial and emotional harm caused by this unscrupulous rogue trader. Knowing her to be vulnerable, Mr McCann deliberately befriended his victim so she believed him to be trustworthy, before tricking her into paying him over £140,000 of her life savings. We hope this case and the subsequent prison sentence serve as a warning to other rogue traders that they will not get away with their crimes and will be brought to account.”

Councillor Pitt, the council’s Deputy Leader and Ward Member for central Southsea, said: “This was an especially cruel case of someone taking advantage of a vulnerable member of our community for their own financial gain. The council’s trading standards officers worked hard over many months and in partnership with the police to gather the necessary evidence, build a clear case and secure a conviction. I’m pleased to see the court deliver an appropriate sentence in this case. Anyone who is worried that they, or someone they know, may have been targeted by a rogue trader should report it immediately. We will investigate and seek justice for residents who have fallen victim to such criminality.”

Prior to his sentencing Mr McCann returned £15,000 of the money he had been paid by the victim and Portsmouth City Council is investigating whether it can recover more funds through Mr McCann’s assets. The trading standards team is also pursuing other formal sanctions to ensure that upon his release Mr McCann is unable to carry out similar activities again.

How to protect yourself from rogue traders:

Do your research: If you’re getting work done at home, whether a small repair or a big renovation project, it’s really important to do your research before you take on a tradesperson or contractor to do the job. Check the company is registered and has the right insurance policies in place, get to know them before agreeing to any work, and always ask for references from previous customers.

Be wary of cold callers: If you are approached out of the blue by a tradesperson telling you something needs to be done to your home, be sure to do your own research and seek independent advice before agreeing to any work. You can also request an official no cold calling door sticker from trading standards to prevent traders knocking on your door. Contact trading.standards@portsmouthcc.gov.uk  or call 023 9283 4092 to get a sticker.

Shop around: Shopping around and getting several quotes for the job is also a really good way to understand what different companies are able to offer you. You can shop around for trusted traders that have been trading standards approved using the Buy with Confidence website www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk

Avoid cash payment: We strongly advise against using cash payments. Paying by cheque, credit card, bank transfer etc. creates a record of payment should something go wrong. Some payment methods such as credit/debit cards can also give you extra protection if something goes wrong, for example if the trader doesn’t complete the work already paid for. This can be a fast and cost-effective route to getting your money back, compared to lodging a claim in the county court.

Get help and advice if you need it: Citizens Advice has lots of good information about what to do before you begin building work. Visit www.caportsmouth.org.uk/ or call 02394 006600.

If you do run into problems with unscrupulous traders, Portsmouth City Council’s trading standards team can help and to make sure businesses are complying with the law. Email trading.standards@portsmouthcc.gov.uk or call the city helpdesk team on 023 9283 4092.