Heatwave brings out scam gardeners

August 16th, 2018 by

Cornwall’s hot sunny weather this summer has sparked an increase in doorstep scams involving garden or outside maintenance.

Now Cornwall Council Trading Standards are urging residents to be vigilant after a surge in reported incidents over the past two weeks, especially at park home sites.

Different scams have featured gardening and tree surgery work targeted for unnecessary and over-priced repairs.

In one recent case, the cold caller started work clearing grass clippings before getting any agreement from the home owner to do it. When refused payment for the work they started to rummage around in a workshop, attempting to take tools and other items as payment.

In another case, cold callers have undertaken work to replace support jacks underneath park home properties, preying on resident’s fears about the condition of supports underneath their homes. Although some work was carried out, it appears to have been massively over-priced and unnecessary.

In the past couple of weeks there have been nine separate reported complaints from residents in Redruth, Bodmin, Helston, St Austell, and St Columb.

Cornwall Council’s Trading Standards team works in partnership with Devon & Cornwall Police to investigate these issues, and where possible, bring offenders before the courts.

In order to help communities avoid the rogues, the team operates the ‘Trading Standards approved’ Buy With Confidence Scheme; offering a directory of tradespeople who have been vetted by our Service to ensure that they are reputable and trustworthy businesses

Sue James, Cabinet Portfolio holder for public protection said: “Doorstep scams take place when someone comes to your door with the aim of scamming you out of your money or trying to gain access to your property.

“Scams can happen at any time of the year, but we have noticed an increase in scams relating to home and garden maintenance, possibly linked to the beautiful weather we are experiencing and people wanting to spend time outdoors.

“While the majority of tradespeople and officials are legitimate it’s wise to be on your guard when you answer your door. Doorstep scammers can be persuasive or pushy but also polite or friendly, and it can be easy to fall victim. It’s especially important to be vigilant and aware if you live on your own.

“Many of the recent reports we’ve received have been opportunistic – they’ve seen someone out working in the garden and have been pushy in getting them agree to pay for services.

“The criminals generally focus on the elderly and vulnerable, and are very good at spotting their targets. We all need to be vigilant, and look out for our friends and neighbours. Just because someone presents a business card with some local telephone numbers on it, does not mean it’s a genuine business.”

Residents are asked to report concerns to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06; alternatively, If you see a suspected rogue trader actively working on a property in your area, please report to the police on 101.

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Be wary of free home energy improvement grants

January 15th, 2018 by

The Government’s Green Deal initiative was launched in 2013, with the aim of improving the energy efficiency of homes, in a bid to reduce carbon emissions in the UK.

The improvements it offered included the installation of boilers, heating systems, insulation or double glazing. The cost of this work was met by a loan, added to the energy bills of the home owner. However, the homeowner would only pay an amount which was based on the projected ‘savings’ that the improvements were supposed to bring.

Whilst well intentioned, the scheme proved to be flawed in a number of ways and was ended in 2015, with the intention that an improved version would be launched again in the near future.

Additionally, another scheme – The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme – was launched alongside the Green Deal. It put an obligation on the big energy companies to fund home energy improvements; in order to help low-income households, people living in older properties and low-income communities.

Unfortunately for both schemes, some unscrupulous businesses saw this as a good opportunity to make money by taking advantage of unwary consumers.

As a result many thousands of home owners now regularly receive nuisance telephone calls or door-to-door salespeople, offering free home improvements, and claiming to represent the ‘Government’ or ‘local Council’.

On the face of it, they appear to be a really good deal. If you can demonstrate that you are in receipt of some form of benefit such as Pension Credit, Income Support, or Child Tax Credit, the firm will send out a ‘surveyor’ to come and assess your home and recommend the best solution; which will then be installed for free.

Unfortunately the surveyors often turn out to be little more than salespeople, with no specific home energy knowledge. If it turns out you’re not eligible for free improvements, they will often try and sell you a heating system or other form of home improvement, regardless as to whether it would make the promised improvement to efficiency.

Gary Webster, Senior Trading Standards Officer with Cornwall Council said “Our Fair Trading team has seen a rise in the number of cases being reported through Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline. In many of the cases notified to us, the recommended energy solutions have been inadequate for the size or nature of the property.

We’ve heard of homes being harder to keep warm as a result, particularly where entire heating systems have been installed. It suggests that not enough care is being taken to properly assess the household needs.

There have been reported cases where the homeowners, who are sometimes elderly or vulnerable, receive no help or guidance on how to use the new system or set their heating correctly. Where they have tried to complain, they are ignored or fobbed-off by the installers – who are often based hundreds of miles away, with no intention of dealing constructively with complaints.

In some instances, no paperwork has been left at the property, so the homeowner isn’t actually clear who it was that carried out the work.”

If you are thinking of improving the energy efficiency of your home then Trading Standards would suggest the following advice:

  • Avoid agreeing to anything as a result of an unsolicited phone call or knock at the door.
  • Be extremely wary if the caller claims to working on behalf of the Government or Council.
  • Seek advice from Community Energy Plus (see details below); they are a social enterprise, based in Cornwall, who can provide a wealth of information on home energy improvements and energy bill reduction. They can also refer you to local installers who may be able to undertake any necessary works.
  • If you experience any problems, seek advice at an early stage. The Citizens Advice Consumer Service can provide telephone or email support in dealing with complaints and, in serious cases, may refer the matter to Trading Standards.

For more information about how to make energy savings in the home:

Community Energy Plus – www.cep.org.uk – 0800 954 1956

For complaints about installers of home energy saving products:

Citizens Advice Consumer Service – www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer

03454 04 05 06

If you have a complaint about your energy supplier that cannot be resolved via their own complaints procedure:

OFGEM – www.ofgem.gov.uk  – 020 7901 7295

For winter wellbeing advice:

Cornwall Council – www.cornwall.gov.uk/winterwellbeing – 0800 954 1956 (provided through Community Energy Plus)

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‘Tis the season to be wary warns Cornwall’s Trading Standards  

December 12th, 2017 by

Shoppers are being warned to be wary of opportunistic scams this Christmas by Cornwall Council’s Trading Standards team.

The safest way to avoid the disappointment of being ripped off or receiving broken, substitute or poor quality gifts to give as Christmas presents, is to buy goods from genuine, established shops and businesses.

However, with more and more people opting to buy presents online, Cornwall Council’s Trading Standards team are urging people to be cautious before entering their payment details on websites or giving them over the phone.

Fair Trade Team Manager Nigel Strick said: “Last Christmas, Royal Mail handled over 138 million parcels, with almost 90% of shoppers buying some or all of their presents online. The average household spends almost £800 on Christmas, which means a lot of money is being paid to online businesses for goods that people haven’t actually seen.

“Unfortunately, this volume of online spending and the pressure associated with ‘must have’ Christmas presents means that there is even greater risk of being targeted by on-line fraudsters, so it pays to take a few precautions and be safe.”

To help people avoid falling victim to scammers and ensure they have a merry Christmas, Trading Standards has issued the following advice:

  • Fake delivery emails or phone calls: In the run-up to Christmas, many people have dozens of packages arriving and often lose track of what they’ve ordered. Scammers know this and send out emails or make phone calls that purport to come from legitimate courier companies. Usually these ask for payments to ‘release’ the parcel or redirect victims to scam websites containing malware or further scams.
  • Stay safe: Never agree to make any payment for the release of a parcel. Delivery companies will usually leave a card if you are out so use the information on that card to check on the delivery company’s website. Check the sender’s address to make sure it is something you are expecting and go to that company’s own website to track orders.
  • Fake online shops: As the pressure mounts to find that ‘must have’ gift or to save money on Christmas present buying or even to find the time to buy the all-important presents so does the number of bogus websites offering exactly what you need and often at bargain prices. Sometimes these sites will look identical to other, legitimate websites – but it’s all part of the scam, designed to trick you into parting with your money. How do you protect yourself against this? What can people do?
  • Stay secure: Look out for the padlock sign on the left of the toolbar and look for ‘https’ instead of ‘http’” at the start of the website address before you enter any sensitive information. This means a website is secure.  Look for online reviews of the website to see if others have had problems or can confirm its authenticity. And check that you know exactly who you are dealing with – the name of the business, its registered office, contact details in case of problems, etc.
  • E-voucher and ticket scams: Trying to save some money or grab a bargain can lead you open to e-voucher or ticket scams. These are often shared via social media or by direct e-mail and can claim to offer free vouchers from well-known brands. But click on the link and you will inevitably be taken to a fake site where you will be asked for a small payment or for your personal details. Online ticket agencies are often the best way to purchase must have tickets for shows, concerts and events – but even some of the larger online sites these days offer tickets they don’t have.
  • Email safety: Be careful when opening any e-mail from an unfamiliar address, no matter how tempting the offer sounds. Poor spelling and grammar is one tell-tale sign that something isn’t right. If in doubt, check the voucher by contacting the actual shop, and only buy tickets from the officially authorised website or box office.
  • Social media scams: Social media sites are often used to advertise amazing deals on electronics, toys, perfumes, fashion clothing and jewellery. But be warned, lots of these offers are completely bogus or are offering counterfeit copies. Either way, your disappointment is the only thing that will be guaranteed. Social networks also make it easy to share links to phishing sites and malware. Only deal with genuine, authorised outlets and websites – companies that you have dealt with before.

Cornwall Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Protection Sue James said: “Remember, if an offer in your email or text inbox sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  It pays to be wary and to treat anything suspicious in the same cautious way that you would any unexpected emails or texts offering to save you money.”

Scams can be reported on 03454 040506 , with advice on the latest scams and how to avoid them available via the Action Fraud website.

Businesses in Cornwall selling goods via the internet can get advice and information about obligations and liabilities from Trading Standards by calling 0300 1234 212 (option 2).

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Trading Standards has seen an increase in complaints relating to the sale of roof insulation

November 26th, 2017 by

The latest rash of consumer complaints sees consumers telephoned and offered a type of insulation called ‘spray foam’. Once they have agreed to a home visit from the companies, a survey is conducted almost immediately and contracts drawn up there and then. This doesn’t allow homeowners the time to make a considered decision as to whether the product is right for them and the main complaint we have received is that companies are not allowing them to cancel within their statutory 14 day cooling off period.

Spray foam insulation is a costly alternative to the traditional fibreglass insulation normally used in roof spaces. It is a liquid foam that is sprayed onto surfaces and sets into an insulating layer. Spray foam sets rigid and is waterproof so you need to ensure that your roof is well ventilated otherwise there will be a build up of moisture which could cause condensation and damage the rafters and other water sensitive components. It could also be difficult to remove, without causing damage if there are any problems or repairs needed down the line.

Leanne McLean, Lead Officer for Doorstep Crime said, “We would recommend that anyone wanting to better insulate their home, first contact their energy supplier. Many will offer free insulation under the Energy Company Obligation (ECO). If you don’t qualify, we would recommend you get quotes from at least three suppliers using our Buy With Confidence list of Trading Standards approved traders and family/friends recommendation. Never agree to a contract straight away at your home – genuine traders will be happy for you to consider their quote before signing anything.”

Anyone who feels they have been victim of a scam relating to loft insulation, or for any other consumer issues, can report the matter to Citizens Advice by calling 03454 040506 or visiting their website www.citizensadvice.org.uk

A full list of Buy With Confidence members can be found here http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/business/trading-standards/buy-with-confidence-scheme/cornwalls-buy-with-confidence-approved-businesses/#-tab-418416 or accessed via www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk

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