Spring brings out the scammers

Flowers aren’t the only things blooming in spring – so too are travelling con men aiming to take advantage of homeowners’ desire to spruce up their properties post-winter.

Consumer affairs bodies around Australia are warning householders to be on the lookout for travelling con men offering cheap deals, often for odd jobs that might not even need doing.

Two years ago, a national taskforce was established with fair trading agencies, police, customs, immigration and traffic authorities to combat travelling con men crossing state borders.

The campaign includes an interactive map of reported incidents, and a Facebook page, Stop Travelling Con Men, that highlights sightings of suspected con men.

Recent warnings include con men trying to convince elderly residents to undertake roof cleaning and repairs, a group of “bitumen bandits” who allegedly use watered-down materials, perform substandard work and often leave without finishing the job, and tree-loppers tricking people into giving them work.

The nationally co-ordinated approach has so far netted in 53 prosecutions cross Australia and fines and court costs of more than $475,000.

In 2012, Victorian authorities noticed a shift from regional areas to the outer suburbs, with 70 per cent of all reports in outer metropolitan areas.

Victorian Minister for Consumer Affairs Heidi Victoria has warned residents not to be tempted by “today-only” deals.

“Travelling con men … 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 upfront,” she says.

“If you suspect a travelling con man is knocking, don’t open your door, but if you do speak to them, ask them to leave. If they refuse, they’re breaking the law.”

The chief executive of Crime Stoppers Victoria, Samantha Hunter, has urged homeowners to keep an eye on more vulnerable community members.

“We’re asking you not only to report approaches made to you, but look out for your relatives and neighbours who may be more susceptible to con men,” Hunter says.

If you suspect someone is a travelling con man, you should record detailed information, including their name, physical description and vehicle make and registration. There is a hotline for reporting incidents, 1300 133 408.

Buyer beware

  • Shop around for quotes
  • Use licensed tradespeople who provide written quotes
  • Don’t sign any agreement until you are ready
  • Ask for contact details of previous clients for references, and follow them up.

Have you been approached by a repairer you suspect is not legitimate?


By Carolyn Boyd, domain.com.au