POLICE and Trading Standards officers have launched a blitz on rogue merchants who rip-off the vulnerable.
In a bid to raise the profile of what they say is still a widely unreported problem, they staged a joint operation on Wednesday and Thursday.
They patrolled the streets handing out advice to residents, talking to genuine tradesmen and keeping a lookout for any dodgy characters doing the rounds.
Cheshire County Council Trading Standards officer Keith Fishwick said: 'The people we are looking for are those who will knock on a door, usually targeting someone elderly or vulnerable, and then basically proceed to trick them out of money.
'They will do all sorts of ruses saying 'that guttering looks as if it is about to drop off' or 'you really should have the latest burglar alarm fitted in this area', and then they will either overcharge, do the job poorly, or simply take the money up front and then disappear.
'There are even cases where a bit of gardening becomes a cover for a distraction burglary.'
The criminals target older people who they believe are likely to have cash lying around and unlikely to know the going cost of the work being offered. It is not unusual for one gang to pass details of a potential target on to another.
With thousands of pounds being paid out to bogus builders who knock on doors for work, the advice being given to residents is to send cold-callers on their way.
Gaynor Roberts, also of Cheshire County Council Trading Standards, said: 'The main message we are trying to get across to people is to simply say 'no'.
'Our advice to anyone who does need work doing is to approach builders themselves, and always get at least two or three written quotations.
'If people do knock out of the blue, let us know about it. That way we can check the people out and find out if they are signing cancellation forms for any work they undertake.
'It is an offence not to offer the right to cancel a works contract when selling services door-to-door, and that is one key way we can take action against these people.'