Rogue traders tend to be unscrupulous workmen who cold call at your door and offer to do work on your home or garden that will be either unnecessary or vastly over-priced. They usually have no formal training to carry out the work, their only intention is to extract as much money as possible from the unsuspecting victim.
The victims tend to be the elderly and the more vulnerable within the community. It is often not just the money that is taken but the victims confidence, making them anxious and worried when at home.
Unfortunately, this type of activity often goes unreported as the victim may feel embarrassed at having been conned. They may also fear that their children will find out, which could threaten their independence or they may just feel it was their fault and write it off to experience. Either way this means the perpetrators are free to carry on targeting others.
Cold calling in itself is not illegal, but a trader that ignores a request to leave and not return, is committing a criminal offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
Rogue traders often falsely imply that a decision needs to be made there and then. For instance, the work is urgent and it just so happens they can make a start straight away, or they are working up the road and have spare materials ready to use etc.
If the goods or services being offered cost more than £35, the law requires that a written notice is provided, stating that any agreement may be cancelled within seven days. This applies even if there is no written contract between you and the trader.
For a trader not to give this notice or for the information not to conform to trading standards guidelines, an offence has been committed and trading standards will investigate.
Incidentally, if this notice is not provided the contract for the goods or services would not be enforceable. Meaning that you would not have to pay, even if goods have been provided, or work has been carried out.
Details on what a cancellation notice must say......
Saying no to doorstep traders is not impolite - it's your right
The majority of householders are aware of the potential problems that may arise from buying goods or services at the door and will give adequate reasons why they do not wish to take up any offer. The elderly, however, may feel it is rude to ask a caller to leave without engaging in conversation, they may also welcome the opportunity of speaking to someone different. This gives the caller the opportunity to convince the owner that they cannot do without the goods or service being offered and it would be very foolish for them to delay making a decision.
The only sensible advice for anyone, is not to deal with doorstep traders and for the elderly and vulnerable to have visible signs stating this.
"No cold calling" signs have been available for sometime, a more recent sign is one from Trading Standards that reflects the 2008 trading regulations.
Displaying such signs should deter most unwanted callers when placed in a prominent position. If a trader still calls it is best to call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06. If they believe a law has been broken, they will inform Trading Standards. If the homeowner has felt threatened by the caller they should phone the Police on 101 or if an emergency 999.
Try to make a note of any suspicious trades-persons /vehicles you may see in your neighbourhood.
Be especially vigilant, if you see suspicious tradesmen working on an elderly neighbours property.
Call on the neighbour and try to establish if the tradesman had "cold called".
REMEMBER - If you are at all concerned call Essex Police on 101.
Your information could prevent someone becoming a victim and provide important intelligence for the Police and Trading Standards.
As well as deterring possible rogue traders, the signs should also prevent nuisance calls from pushy sales staff, from more legitimate companies. The same law applies and they should leave and not return if requested to do so. If they are a nuisance, write to the company involved to ensure that no further visits are made. A sample letter is available here.
The law also applies to door to door sellers. If they should call they need to have a Pedlar’s licence issued by the Police. If they ignore a request to leave, inform the police on 101. If they have no licence or the details appear wrong, again inform the Police as this is an offence.
Whilst the best advice is not to deal with any cold calling doorstep traders. There are some traders that you may be happy to receive contact from, for example, Avon, Betterware or Kleeneze. These traders do not tend to look for a buying decision on the doorstep. They will provide a catalogue to look through at your leisure and then return giving you an opportunity to place an order if you wish to do so. Avon, Betterware and Kleeneze, along with a number of others traders, are members of the Direct Selling Association (DSA). The DSA operate a strict Code of Practice that all their members have to adhere to and the code is recognised by the Office of Fair Trading.
The signs are not designed to prevent politicians from canvassing for elections, religious groups or market researchers from calling.
However, no one is obligation to speak to anyone at their door.
Neither do the signs seek to prevent legitimate charity collections, however, the collector should be able to show identification to this affect, issued by the local council.
There is also guidance from the institute of fundraising, code of practice
“Fundraisers MUST NOT knock on any door of a property that displays a sticker or sign which includes the words ‘No Cold Calling’.”
Some charities ask for donations to be left for collection, using a bag or leaflet. Not all collections of this type are for charitable purposes. Often you will find that the collector is a business, collecting items to sell for profit and they will include a company registration number on their paperwork as opposed to a charity registration number.
All charities are required to be registered with the Charity Commission. To check whether an organisation is a registered charity you should contact the Charity Commission on 0845 3000 218 or visit the Charity Commission website.
Most people who call at your home will be genuine. But sometimes, people turn up unannounced, with the intention of tricking their way into your home. They are known as ‘bogus callers’ or ‘distraction burglars’ , whose only aim is to get into homes to distract people and steal their money or valuables.
Bogus callers may be smartly dressed and claim to be from the council, the police, health organisations or gas, water or electricity companies. They can be convincing and persuasive. They may be men, women or even children. They may ask for a drink of water or to wash their hands. Some may be looking for a lost pet.
In fact, bogus callers may use any story to deceive their victim.
They often use ‘props’ like an identity card or wear overalls with a company logo.
They may ask you to go outside to look at something they say is wrong with your house or garden or the may ask to come in to check something inside that may be wrong.
This type of burglary is not common, it amounts to 4% of all such crime. The main targets are the older and more vulnerable in the community, the average age of victims being 81. Because of their vulnerability victims of distraction burglary can suffer terribly both emotionally and physically.
If you are expecting a caller.
Always check their identification if you do not recognise them.
A genuine caller will always be happy to wait outside while you check on them by calling their organisation and or by calling a family member or neighbour.
Many service providers provide password schemes, sign up to these. When unannounced callers knock at your door they should know the password if they are genuine.
If you do let someone in close and secure the door after you.
Don’t keep large amounts of cash in the house and keep valuables hidden away in unlikely places.
If you have an unexpected caller.
Make sure other doors and accessible windows are locked before answering.
Distraction burglars often work in pairs, so while you are verifying the caller at the front someone can be sneaking in through the back or side door.
Keep accessible windows secure in unoccupied rooms for the same reason.
Don’t open the door unless you can see who is calling.
This may be straight forward if you have clear glass in the door or a window that over looks it. If you don’t the best advice is to have a door viewer fitted. They may call after dark, in which case turn on any outside lights by the door, if you don’t have one think about getting one fitted
Fit the door chain or door bar before opening the door.
(Normally, when the door is shut and locked, leave the bar or chain off in case you need to get out in an emergency.)
If you don’t have one. Don’t open the door until you have checked their identification
This could be done via a nearby window or even speaking from behind a closed door
Any genuine caller from a utility company /public body/ care agency will have identification. Check this before opening the door if at all possible. Phone the company using a number from a bill or directory, do not use any number given to you by the caller. The number may well be bogus.
Alternatively, you could call a family member if they live close by or a trusted neighbour so they can verify their identity on your behalf.
If you are not 100% happy, don’t open the door. Ask that they write or call you to make an appointment but don’t give them your number.
If somebody asks for your help – needs to make a telephone call, lost a ball in your garden, needs a drink or pen and paper for example, refer them to a younger neighbour or assist them through a closed door. Alternatively, call a friend or neighbour to come and assist.