VULNERABLE pensioners in Sully have handed over significant sums of cash to rogue traders, after being conned into paying for unnecessary work to be carried out at their homes.

It is understood at least three elderly people on South Road and Minehead Avenue – and possibly many more – have been targeted by criminals in recent weeks, prompting South Wales Police to launch a major operation in the area.

In some instances the men in question have masqueraded as environmental health officials, telling victims they had received reports from neighbours informing them of rat infestations that had to be dealt with. In other cases, they have pressurised residents into paying hundreds of pounds for menial and unnecessary work.

Helen Flowers, 38, of South Road, Sully, said that one of her neighbours had been among those targeted.

"I noticed a van parked outside my neighbour's house which didn't look quite right," she said.

"He answered the door and they asked him if he wanted his drive jet-washed. He asked how much and they said it would be £400.

"He said no, but I saw one of them walk into his back garden, and when they saw me come out to see what was going on they jumped in the van and shot off."

Ms Flowers says a group of men – she is unsure if they were the same people – returned the following week, this time wearing lanyards and claiming to be responding to environmental health concerns.

"They said that four of his neighbours had complained that he had rats in the garden and that they needed to come in and get rid of them."

The men then left, telling Ms Flowers' neighbour he would receive a phone call from them the following day arranging a time to return.

"They came back and sprayed something around his garden and his attic and demanded £750, which he paid.

"He then had another call, saying that they were going to go to the police unless he paid them a further £2,000.

"When he called them back shortly after, he was told that they had already registered it with the small claims court and that he would be in court on April 11.

"He panicked a bit and went to the bank to withdraw the money.

"Luckily, the bank asked him what it was for, stopped it and called the police."

South Wales Police have launched Operation Eagle to target the perpetrators, as well as to identify those behind a recent spate of burglaries in Penarth and Sully.

They are also continuing to investigate a number of cases of people impersonating police officers around Cardiff and the Vale, convincing them to hand over thousands of pounds.

At least one arrest is known to have been made, while on Monday (March 26), officers in Penarth and Barry seized eight separate vehicles as part of a co-ordinated operation.

Local residents have also been playing their part to warn people in the village about the scam, with local community councillors Steve Oaten and Phil Baguley joining PCSO Leighanne Norris and members of the Sully Village Hub Facebook group to distribute information leaflets around the village.

Sergeant Julie Madoc-Smart of Penarth Police Station said: "Operation Eagle was designed to disrupt any criminals travelling on the roads and to specifically target rogue traders and criminals who commit doorstep crime.

"These criminals will prey on the elderly and vulnerable people in our communities by gaining their trust and then stealing their money.

"Alternatively, some will cold call at a home, and then pressurise the vulnerable homeowner to hand over their money for shoddy or unnecessary house repairs.

"We would like to ask the public to be vigilant and to report any unusual or suspicious behaviour."