Older people warned to avoid doorstep home improvement scams

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

A seasonal campaign aims to raise awareness among older and vulnerable people about doorstep scammers offering fraudulent home improvement deals.

The campaign is backed by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and Age UK and seeks to alert people in later life, the vulnerable and their friends and family to the financial risks of being scammed and the emotional toll it can take.

It is supported by agony aunt Denise Robertson, who says of the issue: “‘I receive many letters from people who have been swindled by illegitimate doorstep handymen. They often feel too embarrassed to talk about it, even with their closest family and friends.

“I hope that by bringing this issue into the open, people will feel more comfortable to talk about it and also more confident, if they are approached, to say no or ask for time to consider, rather than agree to work on the spot.”

The organisations acknowledge that canvassing on the doorstep is not illegal and that there are many legitimate businesses selling to people in the home. However, they say that rogue doorstep trading remains an ongoing problem in the UK.

They add that last year advice service Consumer Direct received more than 5,300 complaints about traders offering home maintenance work on the doorstep, a 16 per cent rise on the previous year.

Helena Herklots, Services Director at Age UK, said: ‘With last year’s freezing temperatures still fresh in people’s minds, we want to raise awareness of rogue doorstep traders offering services to prepare homes before bad weather sets in.

“Although crime against older people is less likely than other age groups, rogue doorstep traders often target those who are older or more vulnerable, so it’s important to be aware of the risks.”

Michele Shambrook from the OFT added: “‘If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Work or service carried out by these traders is sometimes unnecessary, of a poor standard, much more expensive than originally quoted or not done at all.”

How to protect yourself against doorstep trader scams

The OFT offers the following advice:

  • Do not agree to on-the-spot house repairs, or sign anything on the spot
  • Be sceptical of special offers or any warnings that your house is unsafe
  • Do not make snap decisions. Take time to talk it over with someone you trust

If in doubt, you cqan call Consumer Direct on 08454 040506 or visit its web pages on the subject here.

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