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Avoid the cowboys – advice for spotting rogue tradesmen

Rogue tradesmen cause enormous amounts of damage, both in terms of material costs and in mental suffering. BBC Watchdog estimate that over a million people in the UK are affected by such scams every year to the cost of approximately £3.5 billion! While the youngest and oldest are the most frequent victims of rogue tradesmen, everybody is at risk, so it’s important to keep your wits about you and be able to determine whether the tradesmen you’re dealing with are legitimate or not. In many cases, the victim does not realise that they have been fleeced until the rogue has fled the scene of the crime; so early detection is absolutely paramount to ensure that you do not fall victim to one of these devious schemers. Here are some of the red flags that show you might be dealing with a rogue tradesman.

1) Lack of references

While finding a tradesman via word of mouth recommendation is the ideal situation (particularly for expensive structural alterations such as having a conservatory fitted), this is not always possible. If you can’t find a builder or tradesman who has already performed work for someone you know, always be prepared to ask for references. The avoidance of giving references should come as a red flag. But just to be safe, always contact the person who gave the reference with a polite phone call just to ensure legitimacy.

2) Pressure on you to part with your money

Rogue tradesmen often utilise high octane sales tactics to try to get you to part with your money. For example, the trader may assess your property to have severe and dangerous structural defects which need to be fixed with immediacy – and he just so happens to have the tools to fix it himself! Asking for money upfront is another red flag, since most reputable trades people will expect to be paid on completing a satisfactory job.

3) Encourages payment in cash

CashIf a tradesman pushes you towards paying in cash, this might be an indicator that they are trying to avoid paying VAT. In more sinister cases, it might be because they have no intention of doing a reasonable job and want no incriminating paper-work and the trail of the money switching hands.

4) No address or landline phone

Again, if a tradesman is unable to provide an address or landline phone number, this could be because they have no intention of doing a reasonable job and do not want to be traced once they are out of sight with your money in their pockets. A pay-as-you-go sim card is cheap and easily discardable, so don’t think that you will be able to trace the trader just because they’ve provided you with a mobile number.

5) False or no trade association

If a tradesman claims to be part of a trade association, you should always check to see if he is telling the truth. Traders who have been accepted into schemes such as Buy With Confidence and Trustmark must adhere to certain regulations which protect the client’s best interest, so it is always a good idea to choose a tradesman who are operating within a governing body.

6) Don’t trust an internet site until you check references

It’s easy to get a great looking website designed these days, so don’t be fooled into thinking someone is professional just because they have a presence on the web. Positive references and verified trade association status such as membership of the Federation of Master Builders or the Electrical Contractors’ Association are far greater indicators that the person you are dealing with is reputable.

(Photos by taliesin and latestleaf)