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November 11, 2002

'Just say no' to doorstep traders

From: BBC, UK
Nov. 11, 2002


Julian Knight
BBC News Online consumer affairs reporter

At the start of National Consumer Week, BBC News Online looks at the case of an elderly couple who found that answering the door to a rogue trader has left them insecure and poorer.

Mrs X of South East London was unaware that opening her door to a trader would cost £350.

The disabled pensioner, 73 and her 80 year old deaf husband may have fallen victim to one of the oldest scams in the book.

As a result of taking a doorstep tradesman at face value Mrs X has little chance of seeing her money again.

More alarming still, since the case has come to light Mrs X has received silent phone calls and lives in fear.

Second opinion

A team of three burly builders had been working on a neighbour's house and told Mrs X that they had noticed that her chimney was unsafe.

The builders offered to carry out the repair assuring Mrs X that as they had equipment and personnel in situ it was far cheaper than calling out another building firm.

If Mrs X got a second opinion as to whether or not work needed to be carried out it would cost £500 minimum they said.

But as long as Mrs X agreed to have work done by them on the spot the bill would be less.


"I felt very intimidated I was on my own with them and they kept pressuring me to have the repair done, reluctantly I said they could go up on the roof and give me an estimate," Mrs X told BBC News Online.

But the builders did more than just go on the roof and have a look.

"They took this as an invitation to start work, one of them went on the roof with a bucket of cement and half an hour later I was told that I had to pay £350."

Mrs X's husband was despatched to the bank to draw on the couples life savings.

Very large rat

"While he was gone they started to try and get me to agree to more work," Mrs X said.

Now smelling a very large rat, Mrs X refused and the builders left - £350 the richer, without leaving a receipt.

"I do not know if they actually did any work, all I feel is that I have been had," Mrs X said.

The couples son contacted the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) and they are now trying to track down the builders.

Just say no

Local Trading Standards officers have given Mrs X little chance of getting her money back.

"This is sadly a too typical case, the best advice is if a tradesperson knocks just say no, good traders do not come to your door," Tony Northcott, TSI spokesman told BBC News Online.

However, since the case has been reported to the TSI Mrs X has suffered from a spate of silent phone calls and now lives in fear:

"It is very worrying how vulnerable I was to a rogue doorstep trader," she said.


Mrs X story comes to light at the start of National Consumer Week.

The main focus of the week is a warning as to the dangers posed by rogue doorstep sellers and traders.

According to the TSI even opening the door to a doorstep seller or trader can leave the occupier exposed to a distraction burglary.

In addition, the TSI warn that the public are not fully aware of their rights when they invite a trader into their home.

For example, if the doorstep seller has made a prior appointment to visit, the consumer waives the right to a seven day cooling off period when signing up to a good or service.

Phone charges

Consumers are also warned as to the dangers of unsolicited text, email and faxes promising a prize as long as the recipient phones a premium rate telephone number.

One unsolicited text message invited recipients to call a premium rate number to find out how to reduce high mobile phone call charges.

Melanie Johnson, Consumer Minister, speaking at the start of Consumer Week said:

"We have warned the public about the danger of postal scams, such as bogus prize draws and competitions. But people also need to bear the same warnings in mind if they use mobile phones, fax machines and e-mail."

The TSI advises consumers that they can register with the mail, fax and telephone preference services to stop receiving unwanted material.