Thursday, 2 September 2010

Digital switchover a boon to rogue traders

I should share some information I gained from a regular meeting of Age Concern, Suffolk ACRE, Orbit Housing, Suffolk Fire and Rescue, Department of Work and Pensions, Trading Standards and Suffolk Constabulary to discuss and share practice on improving safety for vulnerable people.

Distraction burglaries

This time of year sees a seasonal increase in distraction burglaries. A very popular gambit for these thieves is saying they’re from the water board (no such body exists) and people working in teams to draw a person outside on some pretext while others go in the back or front door.

I could fill pages with all kinds of public safety advice but I hope that someone who knows or is looking after a vulnerable person, will advise them if a stranger calls making claims about their roof or looking for a lost cat, then have them alert a neighbour or carer or a relative or a person designated before letting them in. Any legitimate caller wouldn't mind waiting or coming back later or having their purpose verified.

It is a matter of judgement and it is difficult to set concrete protocols but I personally would prefer to foster a culture of ‘stop  - think - check’, rather than paranoia that all unexpected callers must be evil. Excellent crime reduction efforts in certain hotspots naturally forces criminals to seek pastures anew and nowhere in Suffolk is immune but my community work often involves door-to-door canvassing and surveys and it would make a difficult task almost impossible if every home had the drawbridge up. Unfortunately, due to data protection laws, if I wanted to write to a target group, say parents, carers or disabled people, to advise them of new services or survey their needs I cannot access a health or education authority's database to get a list of addresses but have to post leaflets through everyone's letter box (which usually get ignored) or go out into the community and simply ask questions.

Sadly I have seen examples of security companies distributing official-looking leaflets hyping non existent threats which only increases fear of crime and leads to communities establishing 'no-calling' zones. While those offer some relief, in my opinion, such measures are signs of failure in community cohesion. It would be better if people felt they could ask their neighbour for a second opinion and people knew their neighbours well enough to think that checking-up on them wasn't going to be taken as interfering.

Digital Switchover

Another kind of Rogue Trader
One event likely to cause a spike in rogue traders and distraction burglaries is the digital switchover of television transmission which is starting in Suffolk soon. The important message public safety bodies want to get out is that there is no need to change your aerial or your TV. Old ‘analogue’ televisions will need a new digital box (such as the Freeview box) while 90% of people’s aerials will work as before. In areas of the UK which have already done the switchover, rogue traders were gouging vulnerable people for installing unnecessary aerials because they might have heard on the grapevine that some people (the other 10% presumably) needed to.  Some people are entitled to get a digital box, set-up instruction and aerial installation free of charge, others will pay a fixed rate of £40. Call 0800 4085900 or 

If you you have the means to display information, such as in the lobby of your office or shop window, or you participate in clubs and associations (such as the WI) in your community, then you can also call this number to get display materials and leaflets as well.

You can check if you might need to adjust the aerial from a test pattern on Teletext page 284 but if your reception fails the test now, check again once the transmitters start digital broadcasts at full power (many places around me can’t get Freeview). Although for most it will be unnecessary, you can appreciate why legitimate installers and electrical shops could advise people to get new aerials if someone asked if they needed one for the switchover. Aerials installed five or twenty-five years ago will not perform as well as newer ones. Generally speaking: a digital signal is all-or-nothing, either it works or it doesn’t. So if you enjoy good reception now on analogue, your aerial is likely just fine for digital. If your present reception is poor, a weathered and misaligned aerial might not cope with digital but a “digital aerial” is marketing hype.

Something else to know is while most analogue VCRs can record on one channel while watching another, after the switchover, when your signal is coming through the box, this will not be possible (unless your VCR is a digital receiver) and you will only be able to record or watch but not both. I expect howls of anguish when this comes into effect and a huge waste mountain of analogue VCRs and TVs. If you want to replace your television and VCR for digital models, please take them to household recycling centres to ensure they are properly disposed of.

The switch-over will be phased in through the transmitters serving Suffolk, starting with those receiving from Sandy, then Sudbury and then Tacolneston in three-month intervals

The first mailings should be going out on 20 September with media ramping up everywhere soon. The first channel affected is BBC2, so you’ll know when it’s happening in your area if you can’t receive it anymore!

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