We hear an awful lot about online scam artists and how careful we have to be when purchasing goods and services over the internet, prioritising financial security with every transaction… but have the fears surrounding buying online meant that we’ve become somewhat complacent when it comes to scams in the offline world, as a result?
New research from Citizens Advice has revealed that more than 11,000 complaints were made to the organisation’s consumer service in 2018 by people concerned about possible offline scams, with tactics like doorstep selling, mail and cold calling all being seen throughout the year.
When carrying out home improvements, it’s essential that you make sure the company you choose to work with is above board, reputable and experienced so you know that the work being done to your property will be of the highest of standards.
A common tradesman scam that you may well already have experience of is doorstep selling, where someone comes along unsolicited, knocks on your front door and offers to do some work for you – often at a cut-down price if you agree to sign up there and then.
In the UK, there is no law preventing this kind of selling tactic and as such, you need to be incredibly wary when someone knocks on your door. There are doorstep selling regulations in place, however, and it might be worth familiarising yourself with them so you can find it easier to tell the difference between a reputable firm and a rogue trader.
For example, there is certain information that someone doorstep selling must give you. Before an order is placed, the individual has to provide you with their business name, contact details and address, an address for potential complaints if this is different from their business address, a description of their goods and services and a reminder that these must be as described and of reasonable quality, the total price, how you can pay and so on.
They must also tell you that you’re able to cancel your order up to 14 days after the contract was made – and you don’t have to give a reason for cancelling.
The Citizens Advice study found that the average amount that people lost through scams came to nearly £3,000 so you could stand to lose quite a lot of money if you are targeted in this way. Interestingly, scams that arrived through the post led to the highest average loss at £5,435, so this is something to be wary of as well.
Chief executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy said: “Tried-and-tested scams still pose a huge threat. Even in this digital age where online scams are on the rise, scammers are continuing to use traditional routes to prey on people.
“Tactics like doorstep selling, sending unsolicited letters and cold calling give scammers the opportunity to build a relationship with their victim. Unfortunately, it’s usually more vulnerable and isolated people who are affected.
“The gap between the number of people recognising they’ve been targeted and those actually speaking up it about shows the importance of this Scams Awareness campaign. We must work together to combat fraudsters by being more open about scams and helping each other understand what to look for.”
Rogue doorstep sellers may well mention that they’ve just been doing some work in your local area and noticed that there’s a problem with your house or garden that needs to be repaired. They’ll then likely tell you how much it would set you back if you called someone out to rectify the supposed problem but since they’re already on site, they’ll do it at a reduced price.
You must remember that while a low price might well be appealing, this won’t always ensure that you’re going to get a job carried out to a good standard – and it may well be the case that paying a little bit more means that you’ll be happier with the finished work.
Another warning sign to look out for is someone asking you to pay in cash or for you to part with any money before the job has been finished. Never give anyone any money, cash or otherwise, until all the work has been done and you’re happy with the finished product.
Keep an eye out for one day only offers as these are specifically designed to put pressure on you, forcing you to make a decision then and there before you’ve had a chance to think about it and see any potential danger signs.
Bear in mind that you’re unlikely to have any kind of guarantee in place and you’ll find it hard to seek out consumer support if you are taken advantage of in this way, since rogue traders are likely to take the money you give them and not put it through an official business… so once your money’s gone, it’s gone.
The Citizens Advice study featured 70-year-old Christine (last name not known) from West Sussex who was scammed by two men who knocked on her front door.
She explained that she hadn’t been keeping up with the work on the exterior of her property since her husband died so when the men knocked on her door and said the roof tiles needed replacing and the gutters cleaning, she agreed and gave them £520 in cash.
After the men had finished, she went to see what had been done but one of the men distracted her with talk of a ten-year guarantee certificate and when he went to get it, got in his van and simply drove off. When Christine went to look at the roof and gutters, she could see that nothing had changed.
“The worst part was that it didn’t seem, or feel, like a scam. They looked professional and said they’d completed work on my neighbours’ houses. People need to speak up about this sort of thing. Had I known the warning signs of scams – like being asked to pay up front in cash – alarm bells would’ve rung and I’d have thought twice about handing over my money,2 she went on to say.
Citizens Advice and Trading Standards have now launched their annual Scams Awareness campaign, encouraging people to publicise their experiences and help others avoid finding themselves in similar situations.
Putting up a deterrent sign in your window that clearly states that you don’t want cold callers could help put people off. You might also want to consider talking to your neighbours so they can help you work out if someone knocking on your door is safe.
Do you need to have new sash windows installed in your London home? Get in touch with the team here at Box Sash Windows for help and advice.