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Door-to-door salesmen fleecing unsuspecting

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 05:00 16/02/2013
Ethwyn Licence of Ngaruawahia
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ
DODGY DRIVEWAY: Ethwyn Licence of Ngaruawahia hoodwinked by ‘‘gypsy’’ workers going door-to-door in an apparent driveway scam.

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Door-to-door scammers are roaming the Waikato using dodgy goods and services to fleece unsuspecting victims of thousands of dollars.

And consumer watchdogs say "toothless" legislation is letting them and others get away with dozens of scams.

Just this week, an 83-year old Ngaruawahia woman was left to pay for shonky work after "gypsies", believed to be in the country on work visas, knocked on her door offering to reseal her driveway.

Raglan police questioned two men "from the UK" after a resident became suspicious. While police let the men go saying they had done nothing illegal, their actions are similar to those of a long-running Australian swindle where culprits take advantage of rules that allow them to operate.

"I was bloody stupid wasn't I," Ethwyn Licence said from her Ngaruawahia home. "I shouldn't have told them to do it but I thought it was all in good faith. I hadn't heard about these fly-by-nighters."

Mrs Licence has lived in Ngaruawahia since 1967 and had just arrived home after her regular morning outing when the two men approached her.

They offered to seal her driveway for $6000 and got to work immediately but left the property with tar sprayed on the grass and the driveway with an uneven and dangerous surface.

The men charged Mrs Licence $6900, GST inclusive, for the two hours' work that an industry expert says will "turn to mud" after a period of sustained rain.

Mrs Licence paid by cheque and was handed an unsigned invoice with no physical address, no GST number and a crossed-out phone number - apparently belonging to an Australian mobile phone. The number appeared to be out of service when the Times called it this week.

After calling two reputable Hamilton asphalt companies to check the quality of the work Mrs Licence cancelled the cheque. But the driveway duo returned and demanded payment.

Feeling pressured, she gave them $2500.

"I just wanted to get rid of them," she said.

Lance Hughes from Hamilton Asphalts said the industry had been trying to crack down on the itinerant workers.

Legitimate asphalt suppliers are refusing to do business with them.

He said the same tactics are used around the country every year, with the perpetrators flying in from overseas, paying cash for hire equipment and driving from street-to-street to spot likely targets.

"They just flood the market with supposedly cheap work for cash the majority of the time," Mr Hughes said.

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The Waikato Times telephoned one of the people understood to be at the centre of one driveway scam, and received a torrent of abuse.

The Times was later told the company would act to fix any complaints received about their work.

"If there is a complaint...I fix it, OK? So I don't have any complaints."

Consumer NZ research and testing manager Hamish Wilson said legislation covering uninvited door sales offers little protection to the customer.

"You have only got rights under our act if you buy something on credit from the supplier. If you pay them cash then you have got nothing."

The Consumer Guarantees Act and the Fair Trading Act offer protection from misleading information and gives customers right of return and repair for goods and services but Australia has strengthened it's door-to-door sales law, increasing the cooling off period to 10 working days and restricting hours of operation for direct sellers. Sales reps must leave the property upon request.

Mr Wilson said the job done on Mrs Licence's driveway looks like the work of the Australian "Bitumen Bandits", but said it appears the men have done nothing illegal, and might instead have hit of on a lucrative money-maker.

A spokeswoman for Consumer Affairs minister, Craig Foss, said the Door to Door Sales Act is being repealed as part of the Consumer Law Reform Bill, which will redefine the concept of uninvited direct sales, apply the law to cash and credit and replace the current seven-day cooling-off period with a five-working-day period.

Complaints about door to door sales generally fall into two broad categories - providing either questionable product or questionable services. But they are growing less common than online and phone scams which have leapt dramatically in recent years and which are usually based overseas, he said.

WHAT TO DO

Get rid of them as fast as you can.

Give yourself time to think about it.

Always ask for ID.

Compare quotes with other companies.

Ask for references.

Take down contact details.

Use caution when approached by unsolicited emails, phone calls and salespeople.

- Waikato Times

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