It would be nice to believe that nobody was out there trying to pull the wool over our eyes; nice to believe that every penny being earned was honest. But it isn’t.
Con-artists exist the world over, attempting to swindle unsuspecting people out of their hard-earned cash.
The tradesmen industry is one such area that has seen a slew of con-artists join its folds since the very concept of offering manual labour work as a contractor was invented. As a result, scams are rife in the industry, which is very unfortunate. The tradesmen craft is an important one and honest tradesmen are a vital resource that keep many homes from falling apart.
If you need to find a tradesman, yet are concerned you might get scammed, you’ve come to the right place. To help keep yourself from becoming the one in every ten that falls victim to a financial scam, here are common tradesmen scams to look out for:
- The Fake Authority
When you arrange for a tradesman to work on your property, perhaps the first thing you’ll do is ask for his or her credentials. After all, if they have the authority of a legitimate organization behind them, they are surely bound to be legitimate themselves.
This is absolutely true. Kind of.
Having a reputable authority backing up a tradesman is perhaps the strongest indicator around that they are up to the job. However, this is something scammers are keenly aware of.
They know people trust a lanyard and a fancy-sounding organization, so they do one of two things:
- They make up an authority and/or;
- They pretend to be part of an authority they aren’t
The trick here is to never take anyone at face value. Always check their credentials. Find out if their authority is legitimate and, if so, do they really belong to it? Some trades are easier to check out that others. Those that work in gas, electric or water (including plumbers) need to be part of a governing authority in order to operate, but other industries are less tightly moderated — gardeners, handymen, builders, etc. Always do some digging before you agree to having work done. If you ask a tradesman for time to check out their details, they won’t mind, if you ask a con-artist for time, they might immediately reveal themselves without even having to bother with the research.
- The Cash Upfront Routine
It is a rare thing to pay for something you haven’t yet received. With a few exceptions, you pay for pretty much everything after you’ve got whatever you are paying for — a meal, a phone, a car, a month’s work out of an employee. Why, then, should you pay upfront for a tradesmen’s work?
This is a very common, very simple scam: The ‘tradesman’ con-artist requests that they be paid upfront. The reasoning can be vague or complex; from having to leave before you return home, to having problems with previous customers to entrench business policy that is “out of their control”.
This is a big red flag. We do not live in the 90s anymore; money can be transferred at the drop of a hat from anywhere in the world. You do not need to hand over the money because they may not be around to get paid, nor should there ever be a policy which demands payment prior to work.
An honest trader has no need to be paid upfront, as they know they’ll get their money once the work is done. But what if you refuse to pay? Well, they have your home address. It isn’t difficult to dispute a case when you can send the police to their person’s front door.
You, on the other hand, are in a tough position if you pay, only to discover the work that has been completed is sub-par, or perhaps has not even been carried out. A scamming tradesman can seemingly disappear off the face of the earth, leaving you out of pocket and perhaps worse off than you started.
- The Door-to-Door Problem
A common scam employed by a number of con-artists is the door-to-door method.
The process is simple. You receive a knock at your door, a supposed tradesman you’ve never met stands on your doorstep. They then offer you work on your house — roofing repair, guttering, electrics, etc. — right then and there.
Usually, these types of con-artists are gifted in the art of talking as well as scamming, and may try to catch you out with promises of low prices and a quick job. Sometimes, the tactics get more aggressive. They may make claims that the work needs to be done urgently or you risk problems with your home. They may even claim you have legal obligations.
So why is this a scam? Can tradesmen not go door-to-door looking for work?
An honest tradesman can indeed go door-to-door looking for work, but they don’t try and force you into an immediate sale. If they are working in the area, they’ll let you know if that is the case, giving you contact/business information and providing details on services offered. There are also a number of regulations in place designed specifically to protect the public from dodgy door-to-door salesmen. These include mandatory cancellation rights, access to refunds, receipts, invoices and more. If a tradesman is unwilling to follow regulations, they aren’t really a tradesmen.
A scammer isn’t interested in spreading the word or coming back later. They want a quick, whirlwind affair where they can get in, do some ‘work’, make a quick buck, and leave. This type of trader cares not for quality (why would they, if they are just going to disappear?) and is unlikely to provide long-lasting work.
The idea here is to cut corners, do things quickly, and make that money, leaving before anyone can figure out what you did wrong.
You do not want to be in the position where you cannot contact a tradesman about the work they have completed — tracking down a cowboy tradesman is not easy. You also do not want to agree to work on the spot, instead making sure you are getting a good deal. Doorstep scams are notoriously common, and should never be considered.
- The Mystery of the Missing Quote
You’ve met a tradesman and you find them to be genuine enough; perhaps you have a reference or you just get a good feeling. They seem qualified, they’ve got everything going for them, but they won’t offer you a quote. No matter what other signals you’ve been getting up to this point, this tradesman is almost certainly a con-artist.
A quote allows you, the paying customer, to get a good idea of whether or not the work being done is affordable and competitive to other tradesmen’s pricing. Without a quote, you cannot know if you are getting a deal that you can afford or that is fair.
Scammers don’t want to give you a quote, however. If they give you a quote, their plan is unlikely to pull through. They might lose you as a customer and they can’t force you to overpay. Therefore, they will try to avoid providing a quote.
Quoting is an industry standard; all honest tradesmen will give you a quote for their work. Quotes can sometimes change slightly — maybe an additional part was need, although the tradesmen should always tell you beforehand — but it is a relative figure that gives you all the information you need to make the right choice. If you don’t get a quote, who knows what the bill may end up being? If they won’t quote you, find an actual tradesman.