A SHOCK survey has revealed that some unscrupulous coal merchants are making thousands of pounds by short-changing their trusting customers.

The conmen coalmen, who keep their own wallets warm by leaving their customers in the cold, are now being targeted by trading standards officers in North Yorkshire.

A team from the Northallerton department has been focusing on the deliveries of coalmen from throughout the region, working in North Yorkshire

They checked a total of 43 vehicles and weighed more than 30 tonnes of solid fuel to determine whether customers were being sold short measure of essential winter coal.

Their investigations revealed that 35 per cent of the vehicles they stopped were carrying short weight sacks of coal.

Each sack is supposed to weigh 50kgs but in one case the sacks were 30 per cent - or 15kgs - underweight.

Luckily for those working from North Yorkshire, the trading standards' survey revealed that customers were more likely to get short measures when buying from a merchant based outside the county.

One coal merchant from West Yorkshire was said to be supplying 50kg bags to his local customers, but delivering 40kg bags to people in North Yorkshire.

Stuart Pudney, head of trading standards and regulatory services for North Yorkshire County Council, said: "There can be large profits to be made by coalmen who con consumers in this way.

"If a coalman sells a bag of coal with 10kgs less coal in it than it should have, then he will make an extra profit of about £1.20 a sack.

Over a year this can add up to tens of thousands of pounds. The message from this operation is simple. You are likely to get a better deal if you buy from a local reputable supplier."

As a result of the operation, prosecution reports have been submitted against six merchants. Each of them faces possible fines of up to £5,000 for each offence.