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Caithness News Bulletins November 2003

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The growing trend of ‘bogus callers’ visiting vulnerable consumers in the Highland area is causing concern to Trading Standards’ officers of The Highland Council.

And they will make this the focus of their efforts to mark National Consumer Week, which runs from Monday 10 November, when Community Safety is the theme.

Trading Standards officers will be providing consumers with help and advice so they can make the right choices when buying goods and services at home or when approached on the doorstep.

Nigel MacKenzie, Head of Trading Standards, said: "It is particularly distressing to hear that old and vulnerable people in our society are being preyed upon by rogue traders. It has become apparent that some consumers have been repeat victims of cowboy traders who feel that they can pressurise people into paying for shoddy work on home improvements such as driveways, roofing repairs and building work. Full details of the extent of the problem do not always reach us and when they do it is all often too late for us to act."

Mr MacKenzie added that with the help of Paul Lee, Inverness Manager of ‘Age Concern’(Scotland), the Council recently carried out a ‘survey’ throughout the Highlands which focused on two areas of concern:

  • a lack of knowledge by consumers on their rights; and

  • basic advice on how to deal with doorstep callers.

The Council has therefore decided to target this ‘vulnerable consumer’ group during Consumer Week. Throughout this week consumers will be able to visit their local library and ask for a free leaflet called ‘Doorstep Selling – Know Where You Stand’. Consumers can also contact our ‘Consumer Advice Line’ on 0845/600/4222 for further information about ‘doorstep buying rights’.

Consumer Advice Line is available Monday to Friday, between the hours of 9.00 am to 5.00 pm or the public can write to Trading Standards Unit, 38 Harbour Road, Inverness. All advice is free and confidential.

To save you a trip to the library here is the leaflet -

Doorstep Selling Know Where You Stand
A consumers' guide


Many doorstep sellers are honest and genuine. However, some aren't - and they may use lines like these in order to get into your home:

    1. "Congratulations! You've won a prize! If you could just sign here for it..."

    2. "I noticed you've got a few loose tiles on your roof..."

    3. "There have been a lot of burglaries in the area recently......"

    4. "This cut-price special offer is only available if you sign today...."

    5. "I'm doing a survey...."

    Most legitimate market researchers carry an identity card, which you can ask to see. If you're in any doubt, call the the Market Research Society free on 0500 396999. And if someone says they work for a charity, for the Council or for the social services, they should be able to show you proof.

    Remember, doorstep sellers are trained to get people to buy. They can be extremely persuasive. Once you have let a doorstep seller into your home, they will be expecting a sale - and they won't give up easily.

    Could it happen to you?
    A 63-year-old Preston man signed a contract after more than four hours' high pressure selling from a double glazing salesman. He was able to cancel the contract the next day, having obtained cheaper quotes from other glazing companies....

      "It didn't matter how many times I refused to sign the contract, the salesman just wouldn't go. In the end I gave in because I was exhausted and it was the only way to get him out of my home. I would advise anyone not to sign, and always to get alternative quotes."

    Salesmen persuaded a Lancashire woman to sign a contract for a £3,000 burglar alarm after telling her that her dogs could be blinded or even poisoned by intruders. She later cancelled the contract when she realised the company had misled her.

      "They scared me into buying an alarm by making me feel unsafe in my own home . Thank goodness I checked up on them."

    A stranger knocked on the door of an 87 year old Hampshire man and told him his chimney looked dangerous, offering to give a price for the work he said was needed.....

      "I knew he was talking rubbish because I used to work in the building trade and I know my bungalow is well maintained. I told him, "You may frighten some people but you don't frighten me." I run the local Neighbourhood Watch scheme and often hear about conmen like this."

    Two pensioners from Haverhill, Suffolk received a phone call saying that they had won a free holiday. When a representative of the company called at their house, he persuaded the couple to buy a vacuum cleaner for £1,600. They later got their money back after complaining to their local trading standards officer.....

      "We didn't need or want a vacuum cleaner but he was so persuasive we didn't know what to do. The whole experience has made us very wary of doorstep sales. Now we simply say "no thanks" and shut the door."

    Cowboy builders persuaded a Yorkshire pensioner to part with £300 for home repairs, £100 more than the price he thought he had verbally agreed with them....

      "I felt intimidated into giving them the money. I wrote asking for a refund but the letter was returned with "address unknown" stamped on it, so it's clear they were a bogus firm."

    A 79-year-old Sunderland man parted with £665 after a doorstep salesmen persuaded him to have a small patio built for a total fee of £1,300. They demanded half the money up front, and even drove him to his bank so he could withdraw the money. His son has tried unsuccessfully to cancel the contract and retrieve his father's money...

      "My father gets confused sometimes and didn't realise he was being massively overcharged for a job I could do for £500."

    Do's and don'ts, and where to get help with doorstep sellers.

    1. fix a security chain to your door, and make sure you use it every time someone calls

    2. if in doubt, just say "No thank you" and close the door

    3. find out the name and address of the seller's company

    4. ask yourself :

          - do I want or need this?
          - can I afford it?
          - can I get it cheaper elsewhere?
          - do I know and trust the seller?

    5. ask the seller what will happen if you change your mind. In most cases, you will have a seven day "cooling off" period during which you can cancel the contract

    6. ask for more time if you're not sure; a reputable seller will understand

    7. pay by credit card for goods or services costing more than £100. The credit card company will give you some protection

    8. get a receipt with the name, address and phone number of the company on it.


    1. ask a doorstep seller to call unless you are sure you want to buy

    2. let a caller into your home if you are at all suspicious of them

    3. agree to buy anything until you've checked prices elsewhere

    4. let the seller push you into making a snap decision

    5. pay a deposit unless you're sure you want to buy

    6. agree to have work done on your home without getting a second opinion

    7. let persuasive salesmen convince you to buy things you don't need

    8. listen to scare stories. They are usually nonsense.

    Where to get help
    This guide is a simplified statement of the law and does not deal with the various exceptions in the legislation.
    If you want to complain about a doorstep trader, contact your local trading standards department. You'll find their address and telephone number in the phone book under "Local Authority". For more advice on your rights, or on how to deal with a particular problem involving doorstep selling, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau. You can find their address and telephone number in the phone book too.

    Know your rights

    1. If the goods or services you buy cost more than £35, and you did not invite the seller to call, then you generally have seven days to change your mind and cancel the contract. Responding to an advertisement in the paper or a leaflet dropped through your door counts as inviting the seller to call.

    2. If you agree to a visit after the seller rings you up or sends someone round to ask if he or she can visit, you still have the right to cancel within seven days.

    3. By law, the seller must give you written details of your right to cancel (there are exceptions to this rule).

    4. Failure to do this is a criminal offence, and the contract cannot be enforced against you.

    5. The details of the right to cancel may be set out in the contract, or you may be given a separate form.

    6. If you cancel the contract, you can get back any money you paid. If you have already received certain goods (e.g. perishables) or certain services have been carried out (e.g. some home improvements), then you will have to pay for these, despite having cancelled the contract.

    7. If you cancel the contract, and goods have already been supplied to you, you must let the seller collect them and look after them in the meantime.

    8. If you contact a company yourself, you have no legal right to change your mind and cancel the contract once you've agreed to buy. There are two exceptions: firstly, if the contract says so; secondly, if you bought the goods or service on credit when you will generally have a five-day cancellation period.

    However, if something is wrong with the goods, you may have other rights against the seller.
    Think before you buy
    Always ask yourself: would I have bought this even if a doorstep salesmen hadn't called? If the answer is no, you need to think very carefully about your decision:

    1. Do I want it?

    2. Can I afford it?

    3. Will I ever use it?

    4. Is it good value compared with other similar products or services?

    5. Do I know and trust the seller?

    6. What will happen if something goes wrong or I change my mind?

    7. Do I know how to contact the seller again?

    8. Do I have the right to cancel?

    9. Is this offer too good to be true?

Remember, you can always say ,"I don't buy from doorstep sellers" and close the door. If a doorstep seller refuses to leave, dial 999 and ask for the police.