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Door-to-door scams 

Door-to-door sales generate more than their fair share of complaints. This sales method has proved to be a magnet for fringe operators. Laws exist to protect NSW householders from door-to-door predators.

A wolf at the door

In one case investigated by Fair Trading, a well-spoken young man selling vacuum cleaners knocked on the door of the unit of a 72-year-old woman who lived alone in Sydney's eastern suburbs. His sales pitch was persuasive and the elderly householder eventually agreed to buy a new cleaner - for $890! Because she did not have money readily available, the salesman 'kindly' offered to drive her to the bank to withdraw the funds.

Our courts will defend the rights of consumers when 'unconscionable conduct' occurs. Depending on the circumstances, driving an elderly client to the bank could constitute illegitimate pressure.

When goods or services are purchased through door-to-door sales for an amount over $100, excluding supply contracts for gas or electricity,the law provides for a 10 day 'cooling off' period. This means the householder can cancel the contract within 10 clear business days. The trader must give the customer a written document outlining their right to cancel and how to exercise it in case they change their mind.

Our tip: Snap decisions are often bad decisions. By all means listen to the offers of door-to-door salespeople, but keep your options open. Don't be pressured into signing contracts without taking the time to weigh up the pros and cons.

Itinerant traders

These roving rip-off merchants can strike anywhere in NSW leaving botched jobs and out-of-pocket consumers in their wake. The elderly are particularly vulnerable.

Home repairs and improvements are expensive undertakings and con-men and scam artists have entered the industry to rip off consumers.  Be wary of brochures received in the mail offering to carry out a usually expensive job at an unusually low price. This is a favourite scam of dishonest home repair tricksters. Once a contract is signed, it is learnt why the price is so low - they never deliver the service paid for in advance.

'Free' inspections by con-men turn up plenty of expensive repairs not needed.  They come to the door and try to gain access by posing as repairmen or home insulation inspectors offering free inspections.  They may quickly flash something that looks like an identification card to convince them to be let in. Some shady operators offer to do the work on the spot. When they leave, they may also leave a large bill and a faulty repair job.

Be wary also of door-to-door salespeople who may use misleading information and inflate crime statistics to convince you that the only way to feel safe is to have a security system installed.

Roving rogues

They turned out to be rogues with brogues - the team of itinerant Irish workers who approached a Uniting Church minister offering to asphalt the church car park for what seemed a bargain basement price. They explained they had just finished a major project and had a large supply of asphalt left over.

The job was completed in just under two hours but the following Sunday after the congregation departed, the car park resembled a lunar landscape. There were cracks and pot-holes everywhere. Our band of vagabonds had failed to carry out the essential preparatory work.

In another case, an elderly householder was approached by two men who offered to repair tiles on the roof of her home. They had just completed work on a neighbour's house so she assumed they were competent. She accepted their offer, but she was later to regret her decision.

Because she suffered from arthritis, when the work was completed she asked one of them to fill in a cheque for her. You can imagine her dismay when her bank later informed her the cheque, originally made out for $100, had subsequently been altered to read $2100. They had duped her of most of her savings.

Our tip: Deal only with licensed tradespeople. Ask to see their licence or call Fair Trading on 13 32 20 to check if your proposed contractor is licensed before engaging them.