How To Protect Yourself from Dodgy Tradie Rip-Offs

Seniors being scammed by dodgy tradies

That moment when someone in their 40s offers you their seat. Or the first time someone called you ma’am. The sweet boy, from the Quandamooka First Nation who always respectfully called me Aunty, started calling me Granny. Well intended, respect for the “elderly” gestures that make my skin crawl. So, sure, the world’s perspective of me is changing. They’re all out there seeing me as a “senior” rather than a “woman”. That’s…annoying. But what’s worse is those who aren’t “awkwardly respectful”. When a 20-something man called me “dear” my first thought is, if I slapped this man, the YouTube video would be called “old lady slaps guy in shop”. I’m suddenly perceived a vulnerable person, someone to prey upon if you’re the type to rip-off vulnerable people. Enter the dodgy tradie. The tree loppers who go door to door hoping to “bait and switch” the elderly with their pricing structures. The mechanic who figures you’ll never notice if he slips you a used part and charges you full freight, it’s not like this “old dear” is going to get under the car and check. So, how do you avoid being prey for dodgy tradies when they see you as a tasty gazelle, ready to “take down?

Expect It – And Not Just Online

“One of the stereotypes which surround older people is that they are easy targets for acts of fraud or deception. This stems from a perception that they have declining mental abilities,” says Russell Smith of the Australian Institute of Criminology.

It might seem cynical but “expecting to be scammed” is the new mindset. Expect it because it’s not about you, it’s about how the scamming world perceives you. Online, and over the phone, scamming seniors is a booming industry. In Queensland alone, seniors were scammed out of $35 million in 2023. The most common kind of scam impacting seniors is the “Tech Support” phone call, where the caller asks for your login details to help you update your computer and investment scams. Online scams. Phone scams. So the answer is, don’t respond to anyone trying to get you to do something over the phone or online. And yes, I’ve hung up on our local bank manager a few times now. She is just trying to sell me stuff, so you know… I stand by that decision. But what about getting in a tradesman to work around your home? A few years back there was a rash of senior rip-offs in Brisbane as two men convinced them they needed home repairs they didn’t need, fleecing more than 40 Brisbane seniors. In 2023 The Office of Fair Trading nabbed 14 tradies for various rip offs. The pair targeted seniors because seniors are less likely to jump on a ladder and check the problem out themselves.

The Do’s and Don’t’s of Hiring Tradies

  • Don’t use tradies that advertise in your letterbox or using “side of the road” signs without due diligence
  • Don’t use a tradesman who comes to your door offering services.
  • Do ask friends for recommendations, or at least, ask in your local Facebook community
  • Don’t pay upfront. Get the fixed quote in writing.
  • Do get multiple quotes for a job, even if you have to pay for the quotes.
  • Do check their license status with the QBCC or a similar licensing body.
  • Do ask for references and examples of work
  • Do insist on a written contract and if the job is big enough, one with a retention clause
  • Do read their fine print.
  • Do insist on clear timelines
  • Do monitor their work.
  • Do insist on “tools down” if you feel the job is going sideways.

The Red Flags of a Tradesman Scamming Seniors

  • High-pressure sales tactics that urge you to “just get it done”
  • Discouraging you from asking questions or seeking advice from others
  • Condescending attitude. If they’re talking down to you, they think you’re a target.
  • Vague details on exactly what they’ll deliver.
  • Assumptions that you don’t know much about their job. Mate, I’ve been getting in electricians before you were born, I know what a damn safety switch is.

Mary, Toby and Their HoT Water Dilemma

When Mary and Toby’s hot water system “went down” they did their due diligence. They called around a few plumbers, asked for quotes (were given ballpark free quotes but were going to be charged for precise ones) and in the end settled on a “good deal” from a plumber with no bad reviews, who could come immediately. He was vague on the electrical side of the installation but the deal was for a replacement hot water system fully installed for almost a thousand dollars cheaper than other quotes. They booked it in and paid upfront for the unit. They signed the “boilerplate” contract for the job.

First Signs of Problems

The plumber arrived on time, quickly pulled out the old unit and then hit the first problem. They needed a new slab to go under the system. The old one looked fine but apparently was not strong enough to handle the new system. OK, no worries, it’s essentially just a thick paver. Let’s get a new one. Then, the fittings from the old system weren’t compatible with the new one…. then, there was a few problems with the seals. Then… then…. then… Finally, the plumber let them know it was all good to go, they’d just need to get the electrician in to finish up. What? Fully installed was the deal? “Yes,” said the plumber, “it’s fully installed from our end. We have an electrician we can recommend if you’d like?” When they complained the plumber became aggressive, threatening to take the system away and leave them out of pocket for thousands of dollars.

Stop. If You Feel Like You’re Being Scammed, Stop.

After paying the initial quote upfront, Mary and Toby had no hot water, an additional $1600 in bills and needed an emergency electrician call out. Facing the prospect of losing their money, losing their system and a future with no hot water, Mary and Toby paid the additional fees and had an independent electrician come and finish the installation. They still had to pay to have the old system removed.

“Stop. Don’t pay additional fees. Don’t simply agree to ‘little’ extra expenses. If you’ve paid for full installation, then you should get full installation. While unforseeable expenses could arise on your job, by questioning everything, by reminding the tradesman that the quote was “fully installed” you’re telling him that you’re “too hard” to rip off. You’re not an easy target. ” said John Salmon, Council Member at the Master Plumbers Association of Queensland and North Brisbane Plumber of 30+ years.

Is There Any Recourse For a Rip Off?

That boilerplate contract likely contains a whole load of terms and conditions that will make legal action “too hard” and “too expensive” to pursue. The likely avenue for legal action is to lodge a case with QCAT (or the equivalent in your state) But that doesn’t mean there’s no redress. Report. Report. Report. While reporting your scam may not get your money back, it will bring the tradesman to the attention of the Office of Fair Trading. Lodge a complaint with the industry peak body. You can also leave detailed, truthful reviews on the tradesman’s Google listing and share your truthful experiences, using their business name, in local Facebook groups. This will not just stop it happening to others, but it may inspire others to also lodge a complaint.

Related: Choosing a Real Estate Agent who will do the right thing by you. Aged Care dilemmas.

Older and Wiser