My widowed neighbour Catherine*, 87, knocked on my front door in obvious distress. I helped her to the kitchen and made her a cup of tea.
Two tradesmen had partially – and poorly – painted the eaves on her home and charged her $5000. Being helpful types, they drove her to the bank so she could withdraw the cash.
Catherine was as devastated at being duped as she was by the cost of the scam. She was embarrassed and suffered a major loss of confidence that had a lasting impact on her well-being.
That was five years ago and Consumer Affairs Victoria is warning that ‘fake tradies’ are out in force again – or should that be still – knocking on doors and dropping leaflets, offering a range of home improvement services.
Last month, a group of British con men were arrested and two men charged after allegedly duping customers while offering to do maintenance and repair work, The Age reported.
A 61-year-old British man was arrested for allegedly obtaining $30,000 from an unsuspecting pensioner in the Melbourne suburb of Beaumaris by falsely telling the man he had been fined for removing asbestos on their property.
“Almost half of all money lost to fake tradies reported to Consumer Affairs Victoria in the last financial year has been as a result of people following up an offer they received in the mail,” Inspector Bernie Edwards told The Age.
“If you want work done on your property, don’t just use a flyer to make a decision, make sure you shop around for more than one written quote.
“The best protection against travelling con men is awareness, so we are asking everyone to spread the word and warn their families and friends to avoid handing over cash to fake tradies.”
Consumer Affairs Victoria warns that fake tradies can appear to be very sophisticated, using flyers with industry logos, Australian Business Numbers (ABN) and Australian Company Numbers (ACN).
“They look for houses that have handrails and ramps, often targeting older Victorians and vulnerable people,” a spokesperson said. “They ask for cash before starting the work and will offer to drive you to an ATM.
“They move quickly and usually give only a first name and mobile number, so contacting them afterwards is difficult.”
The department says you should be suspicious of:
- flyers that look legitimate but offer services at reduced prices
- people who knock on your door, or approach you while you are in the garden and offer to do such tasks as paint the house, work on your garden or cut trees, resurface driveways and fix your roof
- anyone who offers cheap deals using words such as “for today only’, asks for cash up front, pressures you to accept their offer, says they can do the job now as another nearby has just cancelled.
It says if you want work done on your house, you should:
- shop around for a quote that is right for you
- use established tradespeople who provide written quotes
- ask for contact details of previous clients, so you can check references
- do not sign any agreement until you are ready
- ask for the tradesman’s full name and registration or licence details (if applicable) so you can check these with their industry authority – especially if you have received a pamphlet about their services in your mailbox
- ask for the business’s number, so you can call to confirm whether the tradesman works for them.
If you know of fake tradies in your area, make a report to the local police or to the national travelling con men hotline on 1300 133 408 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.
* Catherine is not her real name.
Have you been approached by a fake tradie or know someone who has? Do they seem to appear with warmer weather?