Members of a ruthless gang behind a “heartless conspiracy” which conned elderly residents out of more than £250,000 will serve 22 years in jail.

Thirteen people were behind the scheme that contacted vulnerable residents and coerced them into handing over money for repairs for fictitious drainage problems.

Residents living in Brighton, Worthing, Bognor, Horsham, Pulborough, Henfield, Southwick, Crawley, Lancing and Littlehampton were all victims of the year-long scam.

Members of the gang were sentenced at Hove Crown Court on Wednesday and yesterday including five ringleaders sent down for a total of 22 years over the frauds worth more than £250,000.

Detectives said that the scam’s victims, which also included residents in Surrey and London, were “carefully selected” for their vulnerability and were typically elderly householders living alone.

Cold-callers would come to their door claiming that there was a problem with their drains affecting adjacent properties and follow-up calls from members posing as drainage company experts would tell the resident urgent action was required.

The scam victims would be told that expensive equipment was needed which required a substantial deposit and that if they handed over a large sum of money then work would start very shortly.

If victims did not agree immediately, they would be bombarded with calls.

Organisers of the scam which ran in 2011 tried to ensure that all contact within the conspiracy would be untraceable using a sophisticated system of pay-as-you-go mobile phones and money launderers who were paid to transfer the victim’s money into cash.

Detectives working on the joint operation were able to use call frequencies between phones and contacts data to identify users and link phones to two of the main players and to the gang’s money launderers.

The scam ringleaders were both sentenced to eight years in jail - James Ward, 29 of Twin Willows in Pleshey, Essex, for conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering and Wayne Smith, 32 of St Vincents Close in Girton, Cambridge, for conspiracy to commit fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Detective Inspector Mick Richards said: “Ward and Smith were the ringleaders of this heartless conspiracy to defraud trusting and often vulnerable people in their own homes.”

A female victim of the gang living in Crawley said: “I continue to kick myself for having been so stupid to part with so much money and putting myself in an overdraft situation but the story given by the scammers seemed so genuine that I was taken in.

“The whole experience has continued to cause me stress as each time the telephone rings I wonder if it will be the start of another scam rather than looking forward to the prospect of talking to a friend of mine.”

Also sentenced for their roles were: Kelly Ann Robinson, 20 of Albany Road, Pilgrims Hatch, Essex, sentenced to a total of two and a half years for conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Carly Hodges, 32 of of Lucerne Way, Romford, given suspended sentence of 12 months imprisonment for money laundering.

Rebecca Clarke, 35, of Thorney Bay Road, Canvey Island in Essex, sentenced to two years for conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Lauren Flanders, 31, of Petersfield Avenue in Romford, Essex, 20 months imprisonment suspended for money laundering and attempted money laundering.

Stacey Robinson, 29, of Philip Close, Pilgrims Hatch, 18 months for conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Cassandra Knight, 36, of Britannia Road, Warley, Brentwood, 15 months suspended sentence for conspiracy to commit three offences of money laundering.

Kerry Corcoran, 29, of Marlow Road in London, sentenced to 12 month community for attempted money laundering. Ronald Buttery, 46, of Ellen Wilkinson House, of Usk Street in London, suspended 12 month sentence for conspiracy to commit money laundering and attempted money laundering.

Terry Phillips, 56 of Wolsey Avenue in London, six months suspended for money laundering.

Daniel Atkins, 30, of Dunedin Road, Rainham, Essex,12 months imprisonment suspended for money laundering.

Bobby Latham, 26, of Turpin Avenue in Romford, nine months imprisonment suspended for money laundering.

Danielle Philpott, 22 of Manor Park in London, who has pleaded guilty to one offence of money laundering and will be sentenced on December 22.