The tools to tackle rogue traders

A builder, a lawyer and a detective talk with Rita de Brún about the conmen who call door-to-door.

The tools to tackle rogue traders

A builder, a lawyer and a detective talk with Rita de Brún about the conmen who call door-to-door.

“I can tell by the cut of them.” There’s nothing like a spell of fine weather and a stretch in the evening to entice cowboy builders out of the shadows and onto the streets.

But, while they’re as entitled as the rest of us to be there, it pays to be vigilant when they come walking through our gates and knocking on our front doors.

Recalling the case of one Cork family who fell victim to charlatans, Seán Leahy, managing director at Liam Leahy & Son Building Contractors says:

A so-called builder who called at their door was hired to convert an attic. That done, the gang ‘remodelled’ the downstairs and pocketed €100,000 for their time.

They then scarpered, leaving carnage behind. When Leahy’s Midleton based firm was called in to help, he found they’d left the roof ready to collapse: “This happened to a lovely, decent family. Nobody deserves to be ripped off that way.”

Cork solicitor Cian Moriarty.
Cork solicitor Cian Moriarty.

Cork city based Detective Garda Robert McCarthy has copious experience in apprehending, investigating and prosecuting rogue traders.

He too shares a story:

A lovely couple in their 80s opened the door to a cold-caller who said their roof needed fixing. He talked this couple, with limited mobility, into getting their attic converted.

The rogue took close to €20,000 of their savings, caused massive destruction and vanished. But he didn’t get away with it. As the odious gang was ‘working’, McCarthy just so happened to be passing by. He guessed the nasty game that was being played and intervened.

As a result of his quick-thinking, fast-acting response and his perseverance in ensuring justice was done, the cowboy got the jail-time he so justly deserved.

Asked for his top tips on avoiding rogue traders, Seán Leahy replies: “Word-of-mouth recommendation is the safest way to select workmen. Other than that, get at least three quotes.

Ensure any address they give is genuine. View work they’ve done. Also, ask to see insurance documents and a tax clearance certificate. Most rogues won’t have those, he said.

Many who run into difficulty with rip-off merchants fail to report them to gardaí, wrongly believing their wrongdoing to be of a civil rather than a criminal nature.

“We have to differentiate between what’s a criminal matter and what’s a civil matter,” says Cian Moriarty, solicitor with Cork-based law firm Fachtna O’Driscoll.

If the guy calling to the door distracts the homeowner while an accomplice breaks into the house, that’s a criminal matter. If the work done is shoddy or faulty, that’s a civil matter and the homeowner can sue for breach of contract.

Advising that there have been many cases in which homeowners have been fraudulently induced to part with cash for unnecessary repairs, he adds: “Pretending a roof is rotten then taking money to repair or replace it is fraud and a crime.”

Getting redress in pursuing civil actions against cowboy tradesmen can be a difficult and time-consuming process: “When the owner gets to court, there’s unlikely to be any evidence the roof was perfect when the rogue replaced it.”

Establishing where the workman lives can sometimes be tricky. Also, the fairness of our legal system can work against wronged homeowners pursuing cowboy tradesmen.

Reputable builder Seán Leahy both warn of the financialand structural damage that can be done by rogue builders and conmen.
Reputable builder Seán Leahy both warn of the financialand structural damage that can be done by rogue builders and conmen.

“Our legal system is very fair in that it gives defendants every opportunity to deal with issues before complainants are awarded judgment against them. But if the workman chooses to ignore all requests to resolve these issues, it might be months before the complainant can go to trial.

“Because achieving a just or acceptable outcome can be fraught with difficulty, many won’t take civil claims against rogue workmen.”

Det. Garda Robert McCarthy urges people to contact gardaí if they’ve concerns about rogue workmen. “Criminal damage, deception, and demanding money with menaces are just some of the crimes they engage in. An Garda Síochána is very active in preventing, apprehending and prosecuting offenders.”

Asked who these rogue traders are and whether they operate in families, he replies: “They’re conmen, criminals who travel the country. Some operate with family members. Others operate with associates.”

To illustrate how prevalent the problem is, McCarthy tells a story: “I know of a case where they pretended a roof needed repairing, damaged it in the process of carrying out said ‘repairs’, and vanished with the payment.

When the householders discovered the damage, they hired another set of workers to repair it, then found out too late that the repairmen they brought in were yet another shower of rogues.

McCarthy’s tale brings home the point that the rogue traders are very much out there, insidiously endeavouring to pounce and inflict their malevolence on honest, decent people.

Asked how or if we can recognise them, Seán Leahy replies: “I tend to know by the walk of these people, by gut instinct. Usually, I can tell by the cut of them.”

How to avoid falling prey to rogue traders

    Detective Garda Robert McCarthy offers the following advice:

  • Don’t open the door to door-to-door callers.
  • If you must, don’t let them in. Take their card and politely send them off.
  • Be vigilant, lest one caller be distracting you while an accomplice breaks in around the back.
  • Write down their vehicle registration numbers.
  • Many householders fear storms Ophelia and Eleanor damaged their roofs. Rogues are cashing in on this by frightening people into believing their roof is about to collapse.
  • Rogue roofers are predominantly the problem. Building services, tree-topping, gardening, power-hosing, drive-laying and gutter, facia and soffit repairing are some of the other jobs conmen offer to do.
  • Most conmen appear trustworthy when pitching for business.
  • Many get aggressive when called out for shoddy work, insisting they finish the job and you pay up.
  • Hire rogues and you risk being ripped-off and having to spend another sum to repair any damage they cause.
  • If they quote, ask for a breakdown of labour and materials.
  • Ask to see insurance and tax clearance certificates.
  • Get at least three quotes.
  • Check references and view work they’ve done elsewhere.
  • Never agree to cash payments.
  • Always use traceable methods of payment.
  • Never leave strangers unsupervised in your home.
  • Rogue traders operate on a national basis under a variety of company names.
  • Beware of gimmicks, overkill discounts, and ‘special offers in your area this week’.
  • 19. Professional conmen don’t just call door-to-door. Many have virtual offices and run professional-looking newspaper adverts and websites.
  • The addresses they give for their offices tend to be fake or incomplete.
  • Just because they appear to have a landline or Freephone number doesn’t necessarily mean they’re legitimate. It doesn’t
  • Don’t be hoodwinked into complacency if the workman gives you something in writing. Anyone can buy an invoice book.
  • Never be afraid or embarrassed to report them to gardaí.
  • If you won’t, then at least contact a friend for support and a second opinion.
  • If you see men on the roof or premises of a vulnerable neighbour, note their vehicle’s registration, call in to offer support, and call gardaí if you’re concerned.
  • Never allow threats to stop you calling gardaí. Threats in themselves are a garda matter.
  • Ignore rogues who say gardaí won’t help as they only deal with civil matters. Much of what conmen do is criminal. Let the gardaí decide.
  • If someone’s on your property and you don’t want there, they’re trespassing.
  • Rogue traders usually target estates where elderly live. It’s hard to convince new house owners their roof is rotten.
  • Let prevention be the goal.

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