Travelling con men are out in force targeting residents undergoing spring home renovations, pretending to be legitimate construction tradespeople and charging up-front fees for work which is often performed poorly or not needed at all, government agencies across Australia are warning.
Victorian Minister for Consumer Affairs Heidi Victoria says spring is typically an attractive time for con men, and this season was no exception.
“Travelling conmen become much more active as spring arrives and homeowners start looking at ways to fix and upgrade their homes,” Victoria said in a message to home owners last week. “They door-knock for work such as painting, roof restoration, driveway work and tree-lopping and put you under pressure to agree to get the work done immediately. Sometimes they even drive you to an ATM to get payment up-front.”
All told, Consumer Affairs Victoria received 98 reports of such activity throughout 2012-13, with a notable shift from regional areas to the outer suburbs.
Residents in Victoria, however, are not alone in being targeted. A Facebook page set up to warn homeowners around Australia abounds with stories of dicey activity.
In the New South Wales mid-north coast, for example, residents have been warned about men offering roof repairs who claim to be conducting a survey from the local council about house insurance and roof repair claims – one of whom proceeded to place his ladder upside down and the wrong way against a building while preparing to do some work.
Elsewhere in that state, there have been widespread reports of ‘bitumen bandits’ – unlicensed con men offering bitumen driveways and other asphalt work and demanding up-front payment despite clear rules mandating a 10-day cooling off period and making it illegal for door-to-door traders to take immediate payments of more than $100.
Some con men have become serial offenders and have been the subject of several warnings for undertaking unlicensed fencing, decking and minor building work under various names (often sub-standard and unfinished). New South Wales Fair Trading noted that one such offender, Mathew Geoffrey Rixon, was earlier this year banned from any involvement in residential building work by the Supreme Court.
Likewise, in Perth, 29-year-old Cody Williams has been convicted on a number of counts of unregistered painting and having posed as a licensed painter.
Residents are not the only ones to be targeted. In Tamworth, for example, businesses, schools and clubs are being approached by a gang with Irish accents who simply take money and run after offering line marking for car parks and other painting services with a sales pitch of a special price for a same day job.
Consumer Affairs Victoria warns homeowners to be suspicious of unexpected door-knockers, especially where they offer ‘cheap’ deals ‘for today only’, demand up-front payment, offer to drive the homeowner to the bank to get money for payment or in any way make the homeowner feel pressured to accept their offer.
Victoria urges residents who suspect a travelling conman is knocking to refuse to answer the door or at least to ask them to leave and call Crime Stoppers.
In 2011, a national taskforce was established to catch any such people who cross state borders. So far around the nation, such efforts have resulted in 53 prosecutions, $475,000 worth of fines and 46 registered breaches of visa rules.