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Rogue doorstep sellers targeting elderly, warn Trading Standards – 03/10/2011

Rogue doorstep sellers are increasingly preying on the elderly and vulnerable, the Trading Standards Service (TSS) has warned.

Doorstep sellers typically turn up at homes, without advance notice, offering to carry out building, repair or landscaping work to homes or gardens. They will often offer services at attractive rates and use persuasive sales techniques to encourage people into making hasty decisions.

In anticipation of wet winter weather, rogue builders may convince you that some of your roof tiles look unsafe and offer to repair them for a small fee. While on the roof the rogue trader may ‘discover’ other problems, advising that it’s vital to have them fixed urgently to prevent the property from leaking and become liable to rain damage. A high fee will then be charged for this additional (unnecessary) work.

Mary McKeown, from Trading Standards, said: “This is the time of year when people are beginning to prepare their homes for winter and rogue doorstep traders may take the opportunity to offer services before the bad weather sets in.

“It is not illegal for handymen to canvas for work, but it is important that people are cautious and do not make hasty decisions. Rogue doorstep selling is an ongoing problem in Northern Ireland and work carried out can sometimes be unnecessary, of a poor standard, much more expensive than originally quoted or not done at all.”

Trading Standards is also concerned about unscrupulous traders that sell mobility aids on the doorstep.

Mobility aids – wheelchairs, scooters, stair lifts, walk in baths and adjustable beds – are typically used by the elderly, disabled and those with medical conditions to help them move around freely.

Mary McKeown said: “These items are often sold to vulnerable people in their home to secure a deal.

“Once in the home, rogue traders often use a range of persuasive and emotional tactics to secure a quick sale and con people out of their money. For example, you are made to feel that there is a great urgency in the offer and that if you don’t sign up now, you will miss out. They may also make claims that their product will alleviate ailments and bring many health benefits.

“In our experience these turn out to be false claims and are based on nothing more than securing a sale at any cost.

“Mobility aids are important products for older and disabled people, which can significantly improve the quality of their lives and for many they are an absolute necessity. We want to raise awareness about the risks of doorstep sellers and the tricks they use to get you to agree to buy products that you either don’t need or may be able to buy at a cheaper price.”

Consumers should be aware that they have cancellation rights if the goods or services cost over £35. They have a seven day cooling-off period during which they can cancel the contract and get any money already paid refunded. Sellers must provide prospective buyers with written notice of these rights, along with a cancellation form.

Mary added: “If traders do not comply with these requirements, any contract agreed with the customer will not be legally binding and the trader will be committing an offence.”

Trading Standards offers the following advice on how people can avoid being scammed by rogue doorstep traders:

  • If a trader knocks at your door do not agree to on-the-spot house repairs or sign anything.
  • Do not make snap decisions. Take time to talk to someone you trust before you make a decision to either have work done or buy an expensive product.
  • Shop around. Compare pricing and information on the various options available to you so that you are not overcharged.
  • Even if you invite a trader into your home, you should still be on your guard. Consider asking a friend or family member to be with you when the trader visits you in the home.
  • Never allow a doorstep trader to accompany you to your bank to withdraw cash to pay for services.

If consumers are concerned or have a complaint about doorstep callers they are asked to contact Domain Scams on 0300 123 6262 or alternatively log onto the Domain Scams website.

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