More than half of Which? members have had a trader phone out of the blue or turn up unannounced at their home or that of a relative, according to a recent survey of 1,645 members*.
For one in seven (14%) the experience made them lose trust in traders, while 8% suffered emotional distress as a result.
The most common types of jobs cold callers offer to do or claim need to be addressed are trimming trees and installing new double glazing.
Keep reading for real-life stories from those who’ve been targeted by scammers, and learn about the tactics tricksters may use to fool you.
If you’re looking for a reliable trader, use Which? Trusted Traders to find someone who’s been vetted by Which?. All our assessors are ex-Trading Standards, so have years of experience in weeding out dodgy traders and finding reputable ones.
Any home improvement issue that can be seen from the road is a possible target for a doorstop scammer. They’ll often lie about or exaggerate the urgency of the task, whether it’s reglazing windows or fixing roof tiles.
Another frequent claim is that they’re working on a property nearby and have materials left over they could use for your home, such as tarmac for a new driveway.
Below are the eight most common jobs our members have been cold called about:
Unfortunately, criminals posing as traders tend to target the vulnerable. They often look out for homes with tired exteriors and residents with typically older names.
Some even work together by discreetly marking the pavement outside the houses of those recently scammed, or circulating ‘suckers’ lists on the black market.
While some phone or knock on your door, others attempt to reel you by distributing leaflets making misleading or false claims and using scare tactics, particularly around home security.
Visit our guide to avoiding a rogue trader for more hints and tips on what to look out for so you don’t get stung.
‘My 72-year-old sister agreed to a caller trimming her trees for £60 and grouting her driveway for £150. But when she returned home at lunchtime, they put up the cost to £250 in cash, and left a visible mess. The following day another firm arrived offering to repair it all for £150, which also went up again, this time to £200. When they returned the next day, my sister dialled 999 and they were apprehended, but sadly no money was repaid.’
‘A glazing trader said I needed my windows redone – they talked as though we would be burgled if we didn’t do it. They kept lowering the price and said it was a one-time offer only. They were insistent and took hours to leave. I felt intimidated and unsafe in my own home. The hard sell was appalling and very unnerving.’
‘I was quoted a price verbally for tree trimming, but was charged more to finish the job once it was started. The tree was left in a messy condition, so I asked the trader to redo it. They didn’t come back when they said they would, and then turned up on a day when I was at work. Two blokes, a lot bigger than me, later came back demanding the extra money.’
‘A labourer was clearing a neighbour’s guttering, so I employed him to do mine. He came back later saying additional work was necessary, which was probably true, but subsequently kept returning claiming more and more work was necessary. I had this checked by a competent builder, who confirmed it wasn’t true.’
If you’ve had an experience with a dodgy trader, our guide to dealing with trader disputes will help you to resolve your problem, and potentially get your money back.
Six steps to hiring a reliable trader
We’d always recommend turning away a cold caller. Regardless of whether what they’re saying is genuine or not, agreeing to work in this way means you have no idea about the quality of their work or whether they’re offering you an over-inflated price.
You should never feel pressured into buying something on the spot. Take your time to make sure you find the right trader for the job.
Here are our six tips:
- Get a number of quotes and opinions to determine a reasonable price. This will allow you to gauge whether what the trader is telling you is right.
- Ask to see previous examples of their work and, if you can, speak to their previous customers, rather than relying on their word or online reviews.
- Choose someone who’s registered with the relevant accredited trade bodies and an Alternate Dispute Resolution scheme. This will make things a lot easier if something goes wrong.
- Check their credentials and background. If they need certain certifications for the job, if it will involve electrical or gas work for example, ask to see proof of these. Use Companies House to see how long they’ve been trading and whether they’re financially sound.
- Make sure you get everything in writing, and that you agree to dates, a price and the work to be done.
- Pay by card, ideally credit, as this will give you extra protections if you end up needing to claim money back.
At Which? Trusted Traders, we do the research work for you, by extensively checking each trader’s background. To bear our logo, they must be able to demonstrate that their business is well established and financially sound, that they do not cold call and that they have no previous convictions.
They must also be adequately insured, have the relevant qualifications to do the work they undertake and have paperwork that adheres to all the legal requirements. Lastly, they must understand and commit to the standards that Which? expects and have a base of satisfied customers.
*Survey of 1,645 Which members in June/July 2018.