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Home & garden.

Updated: 7 Oct 2021

How to avoid a rogue trader

Avoid being stung by a rogue trader with Which? advice on the common practices they employ, plus inside tips on hiring a reliable trader.
Liz Ransome-Croker
Couple shouting at builder 476865

From doorstep scammers to sloppy builders, rogue traders can catch you out in a number of ways. Here, we reveal the tricks they use to reel you in, and explain how to find a trader who's trustworthy.

We’ve all heard stories of unscrupulous traders knocking on old people’s doors, claiming that work needs to be done, then swiftly making off with hundreds of pounds without having done any work. 

Unfortunately, these aren't urban myths. Between August 2017 and July 2018, Action Fraud recorded 7,085 cases of people being defrauded by doorstep sellers and bogus tradespeople, while Citizens Advice logged 73,861 home improvement-related queries and issues from July 2017 to June 2018.

We've spoken to the expert trader assessors at Which? Trusted Traders, as well as our reliable traders themselves, to get the inside track on the common practices dodgy traders employ.

Read our guide on how to find a trusted trader for insider tips on questions to ask, actions to take and ways to protect yourself in case any problems arise.

If you're looking for a reliable trader, visit Which? Trusted Traders, where we do the hard work for you. All our registered traders are put through extensive assessments and background checks.

Rogue trader tricks

All our assessors at Which? Trusted Traders are ex-Trading Standards, so have years of experience in spotting a dodgy trader. We asked them for the lowdown on the signs to look out for. 

Which? members can log in to reveal the telltale signs and tricks that suggest a trader is not to be trusted. If you're not yet a Which? member, get instant access by joining Which? now.

You'll also get access to our list of the most prevalent doors-stop scams and lax trader behaviours homeowners have had to deal with.

Cold-calling traders

Rogue traders often operate by cold calling. When we asked 1,645 Which? members (June/July 2018) whether they or a relative had ever had someone claiming to be a trader call out of the blue or turn up unannounced at their door, 52% had. 

14% lost trust in traders and 8% suffered emotional distress as a result.

Any home improvement opportunities that can be seen from the road can be a possible target for a doorstop scammer, who may lie about or exaggerate work that needs to be done. This could include driveway repaving, garden landscaping or window reglazing.

Log in or join Which? to see the eight home improvement jobs most commonly suggested by cold-calling traders.

Criminals employ a range of tactics to target the vulnerable. This includes looking for homes with tired exteriors, where elderly relatives are more likely to live, and residents with typically older names. Some work together by discreetly marking the pavement outside the houses of those recently scammed, or circulating ‘suckers’ lists on the black market.

It’s not just someone knocking on the door that you should be cautious of - take leaflets put through your letterbox with a pinch of salt, too. This is another way in which cowboy traders try to reel you in, making misleading or false claims and using scare tactics, particularly around home security.

If you're being pestered by cold calls, visit our guide to nuisance calls to find out how to put a stop to them, and head to how to find a trusted trader for advice on responding to cold callers coming to your door.

Common dodgy trader practices

Fraudsters misleading someone into handing over money and then disappearing is the more extreme end of the rogue trader scale. 

But there are plenty of other unacceptable practices that can be costly and infuriating for homeowners.

We spoke to nearly 300* of our Which? Trusted Traders about the negligent practices that they have seen in their line of work. 

Log in to find out what they are.

If you've been let down, visit our page on what to do if you have a dispute with a trader for advice on how to reach a resolution.

Sole traders vs big companies

It’s not just one-man bands that can prove problematic for consumers. Our Which? Legal team also receives complaints about the installation services of big-name brands.

We survey customers to find out what they make of the kitchen and bathroom companies they use. Our customer scores, which are based on how satisfied customers are with brands and whether they’d recommend them to a friend, show what people think of big kitchen and bathroom companies’ fitting services.

Logged in Which? members can see our full kitchen and bathroom reviews, with ratings for well-known brands including John Lewis, B&Q, Ikea and Homebase.

There can be advantages to using a big company over a lone ranger. Retailers are more likely to have a complaints procedure in place, and be part of an dispute resolution scheme, both of which can be very helpful if something does go wrong.

They’re usually in a better financial position, or have more assets, so there can be a greater chance of getting your money back if they fall short of expectations. Plus, there's less risk of them disappearing into thin air when a complaint is made.

How to find a trader you can trust

To reveal our list of top tips from ex-Trading Standards experts and Which? Trusted traders, Which? members can log in.

If you're not yet a Which? member, join Which? to get instant access to all our member-only advice and thousands of product reviews.

*In June/July 2018 we spoke to 292 Which? Trusted traders about the negligent practices that they have seen in their line of work.