A MAN and his wife have been arrested in Florida as part of investigations into a ten-year long fraud which targeted thousands of pensioners.

Police said banking for the £10million damp-proofing scam was being run from an address in Clitheroe and rogue traders hit 1,500 victims a year, including pensioners in Accrington, Blackburn, Clitheroe and Burnley.

Officers investigating the case described it as a "nasty and sophisticated" scam and that a base in the Portugese Algarve was used as a call centre for the operation.

It is alleged that the fraudsters injected water into the walls at the homes of victims, many of them elderly.

Doorstep salesmen offered to carry out a free damp check and then used high-pressure sales tactics to persuade them to have damp-proofing work carried out, often at an extortionate cost, police said.

Nigel John Hudson and his wife Sarah Ann Stone, of Staffordshire, have been arrested by the US Marshall Service in Florida.

They were detained at 6 Motel in the Cocoa Beach resort, 15 miles from NASA's Kennedy Space Centre and are awaiting extradition back to the UK.

The couple face conspiracy charges along with eight men, including two from Clitheroe.

Detectives from Lancashire are due to fly out to Orlando this weekend bring back the couple, who have been held in an American holding cell.

The investigation has involved trading standards officers from West Yorkshire, Lancashire, Merseyside, Cheshire, Wigan, Wirral, Warrington, Manchester and Bolton, and police officers from Lancashire, North Wales, Staffordshire, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Portugal and Florida.

Their findings suggest the company, which operated under various names, claimed to offer expert damp proofing advice and treatments, supported by a 30-year guarantee. It is alleged that in reality the business's claims were fraudulent and the entire operation was a scam.

Police allege the operation involved up to £1.5million a year with around 1,500 victims being targeted over a 10 year period.

West Yorkshire Trading Standards manager Paul Smith said: "The company is alleged to have used a "damp-proofing" technique that involved, in some cases, injecting plain water into the walls."

Det Con Richard Horton coordinated intelligence from police and trading standards officers from across the North West and Midlands who responded to complaints about the activities of a damp-proofing company.

DC Horton, who is based in Accrington, said: "This was a very complex case, involving gathering a lot of evidence and tracing suspects around the country and abroad. It was a nasty and sophisticated scam.

"The charges relate to offences committed in the past 12 months, however we believe it has been going on for up to 10 years with around 1,500 victims each year, mainly targeting the elderly. Since we have been investigating this two victims have died.

"The victims are often very traumatised because they know they have been conned but are too nice to say anything. It is an extremely horrible, nasty offence. Many victims have found it difficult to talk about it and they became suspicious and changed their personalities."

Daniel Sharples, 19, of Cardigan Avenue, Clitheroe; Lawrence Baron, 20, of Henthorn Road, Clitheroe; Jack Edward Brown, 19, of Manchester; Karl Jeeves, 27, of North Wales; Joseph O'Toole, 49, of Manchester; Paul Markey, 32, of Stockport; Scott Alan McGrory, 34, of Wolverhampton and Alan Keith Chen, 43, of Derby have all been charged with conspiracy to obtain property by deception.

An 11th man from Stoke-on-Trent has been arrested and realesed on bail pending further inquiries.