Doorstep seller complaints hit record high

Tony Levene
by Lovemoney Staff Tony Levene on 17 November 2012  |  Comments 8 comments

More of us than ever before have complained about the antics of doorstep sellers. Where do you stand if you've been caught out?

Doorstep seller complaints hit record high

The Office of Fair Trading says consumers made a record 35,000 complaints to helplines about doorstep traders. That's anything from problems with people promising to tarmac your drive (my answer is always “I don't have a drive”) to – and this I find hard to believe – folk still selling reference books.

Why this new high? Perhaps doorstep scam perpetrators come out in hard times, or maybe consumers are more aware of their rights. But whatever the explanation, the 35,000 count is just tip of the iceberg stuff – there are many more problems go unreported.

Doorstep is a misnomer – the rules cover sellers invited into your home, not just those who stand by your front entrance and whether they have a prior appointment with you or not.

Most doorstep victims are elderly, more likely to be trusting, live alone, and have spare savings. They are also less likely to know their rights or access online advice. So if you have a relation or neighbour in this age group, read on so you can help spread the word.

The scams of choice

The consumer watchdog is currently focusing on two sectors – home insulation and mobility aids.

Dorset Trading Standards has an above average ratio of older people in its area. Last April, it reported people were sold £99 “money saving” gadgets which promised to cut energy bills by 40%. Needless to say, these cold callers spouted a lot of hot air – the devices did nothing and many were electrically unsafe.

To add insult to injury, the phoney gadget purveyors then offered to recover the money plus “compensation” of up to £3,000 through a “legal claims management” company. But to get this refund, the victim had to first pay over another £100 to £400 in “initial costs”.

Watch out too for the “petrol saver” device which claims to cut consumption by 40%. It does not and can actually damage the engine.

Solar panels are also aimed at older people, especially those living in sunnier parts (like Dorset). Targets are told they will save thousands on energy bills and cut carbon emissions.  There is – as in all scams – some truth in these claims. But the price quoted is a rip-off. A solar water-heating system should cost about £4,500 to £5,000. Instead, doorstep sellers aim to get £15,000. And energy efficiency sellers don't offer good advice – they'll flog a system to someone with a north-facing roof permanently shaded by trees.

Overcharging and poor advice are also rife in mobility aids.

Stair-lift tracks have to be specially made to fit each home so the salesperson makes a big show of measuring up. But whatever the dimensions, the price demanded is nearly always around £5,500 to £6,000. And that is twice the real cost, even allowing for a decent profit. Sellers will take £3,000 rather than lose a deal. The same applies to other aids such as bath lifts, scooters and wheelchairs.

Again, advice is often deliberately dodgy or capriciously careless.

Doorstep selling rules

No one should buy without first contacting a health or social services professional to check whether the device is needed. Doorstep victims are often unable to shop around, forced to trust claims of expertise.

The doorstep selling rules cover items valued at £35 or more including home improvement, repair and maintenance services, gardening, cosmetics, clothes, jewellery and toiletries, household items such as vacuum cleaners, books, DVDs and other home entertainment items, nutrition and health products, energy supplies and disability aids and mobility products. But they do not cover financial services.

Under the rules, sellers have to tell customers about their rights to cancel over a minimum of the following seven days. This ‘Notice of the Right to Cancel’ must be in writing and applies whether the visit is with or without an appointment.  If this notice is not provided, the contract cannot be enforced – failure to give a notice is a criminal offence with a  fine up to £5,000.

Concerns about a salesperson or business offering goods or services on the doorstep can be reported to Citizens Advice on 08454 040506.

OFT head of campaigns Judith Frame said: "Nobody needs to sign up or agree to a purchase on the spot if they do not want to, whether on the doorstep or in your home. Everyone usually has a cooling-off period of seven days to change their mind or cancel.

"Anyone who arranges a visit by a doorstep salesperson should consider asking someone they trust to sit with them during the appointment."

More on scams and rip offs:

The £32m Levene Ponzi scheme!

Cold-calling scammers want to sell me 'shares' in Lloyds Banking Group

Don't fall for this weightloss pills scam

Avoid these silver-tongued scammers

Don't waste your money on wine that doesn't exist!

The coloured diamonds scam

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Comments (8)

  • theciscokid
    Love rating 9
    theciscokid said

    We rarely get doorstep sellers, but the phone calls are every day and the cocky so and so's with private caller numbers seem to enjoy winding you up. unfortunately friends and our Doctor and Dentist all come up as private callers as well, so it gets difficult.

    Report on 17 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  2 loves
  • Vern54
    Love rating 14
    Vern54 said

    I agree. The modern doorstep scammer rings you uo with a survey or a service that your life would be so incomplete without - Satellite insurance cover seems prevalent just now - but I had a very persistent lady yesterday who could not understand why I didn't want to give her half the cost of my TV set to guarantee its replacement if it breaks down within five years. Holidays too. They usually know your name first (or a variation of it!) and I think responding to the phone surveys probably gives them the initial information. My advice is never to take part in a phone or on-line "survey".

    Report on 17 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • fenemore
    Love rating 251
    fenemore said

    I have lost count of the number of satellite "insurance" calls I get. They usually know that I am a Sky customer - but how? I am guessing someone working for Sky downloaded customer details onto a memory stick and flogged it.

    Their scripts do not work on me, because I didn't get my equipment from Sky - so they fall at the first fence by claiming that my "warranty" has now expired. Do they really think £11 a month is "reasonable"? Even £11 a YEAR would be extortionate.

    "So you expect me to fork out £132 a year to insure a box that I got from eBay for £30?" I ask. Stunned silence at the end of the line - followed by the disconnection click!

    The worrying thing is that there MUST be gullible people out there whom fall for this!

    Report on 17 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • electricblue
    Love rating 769
    electricblue said

    There clearly must be gullible people out there for Sky to actually have customers, at least this side of Murdoch senior's demise.

    In my area another fat old scammer who should have retired a long time ago kept putting cards and flyers through our doors urging us to help him get a cushy job on almost £100k a year.

    Looks like Prescott will have now have to go spend his retirement working at one of the Car Boot sales his equally noxious son runs.

    Report on 17 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • GaryDean
    Love rating 76
    GaryDean said

    e-blue...it's not as if there's a lot of choice.

    Report on 17 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • hopefultom
    Love rating 50
    hopefultom said

    The author of this piece says that 2 of the items that the scammers try to sell are "money saving gadgets " that cut your energy consumption, and "petrol saver " devices that cut your fuel consumption by 40%, and then goes on to say, probably quite rightly, that they are both totally useless.

    Mr Levene then goes on to say " There is- as in all scams-some truth in these claims "

    Which one is it Tony ?

    In conclusion Mr Levene advises anyone with concerns about possible scams, to phone a premium rate number!!

    Hey, Lovemoney, is it about time someone else was recruited to do this kind of feature ?

    Report on 18 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • PoohBah
    Love rating 23
    PoohBah said

    @fenemore: it's quite possible that the callers actually do not know you are a Sky customer; if they phone (say) thirty people picked out of the phone book at random (cross-checked with the electoral roll, that gives them your full name) then there is an excellent chance that some of those will be Sky customers, the odd one of whom may fall for the scam. That easily pays for the wasted calls to all the others who were not actually Sky customers ("Sorry, our records must be wrong" or just click! Brrrrrrr...) or who do not fall for it.

    Report on 18 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Arblaster
    Love rating 43
    Arblaster said

    A couple of years ago I heard on the radio that there were calls to make hawking door to door illegal...then nothing. We do not need these hawkers. They do not sell anything useful.

    Report on 19 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love

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