Commissioner's Blog: Drive bitumen bandits out of town
With Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard...
There are many pleasant things we associate with summer in Western Australia, such as barbecues and swimming, but unfortunately at Consumer Protection it’s a time when we hear of ‘bitumen bandits’ in the State.
‘Bitumen bandits’ turn up at homes and businesses without invitation and then offer to lay driveways at supposedly discounted prices; often claiming they have asphalt leftover from another job.
Chances are they will look suitably professional, for example wearing high-visibility work clothes and driving a utility vehicle or truck. They may seem charming and technically experienced. However, once they’ve laid a driveway (usually in a substandard way with poor quality material like blue metal) their attitude will change, especially if you challenge them about value for money. They’ve been known to force elderly people to hand over cash.
Once they have gone it is unlikely you will be able to contact them again. Under usual circumstances you could seek a repair, replacement or refund when there’s a problem with goods or services provided, like a driveway laid too thinly and peeling away. This option isn’t available when we can’t track down the supplier.
From experience we can tell you these travelling conmen are on a ‘working holiday’ from the United Kingdom and they intend to leave here with a case full of money that they don’t deserve and without paying taxes. The good news is that you can stop them…
Regardless of how much of a bargain it may seem, Consumer Protection strongly recommends that you say NO to driveway-layers who knock on your door out-of-the-blue with an offer to start work immediately. For homeowners, that deal in itself is a breach of the Australian Consumer Law, which says consumers get a 10 business day cooling off period to think over any uninvited offer before work is carried out or money changes hands. The legal term for this type of good or service sale is an ‘unsolicited consumer agreement’.
It is important to note that ‘unsolicited consumer agreement’ protections do not apply to businesses but business premises are also targeted by ‘bitumen bandits’. Like residents, any business owner or employee who is approached should also turn away these travelling conmen and report details such as vehicle registration number, descriptions, names and phone numbers used, to either Consumer Protection on 1300 30 40 54 or local police.
A fairly new tactic involves ‘bitumen bandits’ putting business cards in letterboxes and leaflet-dropping to generate work. Last year this happened in metropolitan Perth and this year it has happened in WA’s South West.
To avoid travelling conmen, and keep money in our economy in the process, shop around for quotes from local, established driveway-laying service providers that are registered as Australian businesses. Check up on their credentials (there’s an ABN search function at www.asic.gov.au) and reputation by looking for online reviews and asking for references. Also ensure you pay in a way that’s ‘through the books’, in case you have issues with work afterwards.
For alerts about travelling conmen and other emerging issues, ‘like’ the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ConsumerProtectionWesternAustralia or follow us on Twitter: @ConsumerWA.
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