Elderly couple turns tables on scammers
Bitumen bandits are lucky not to have been caught in a sting after ripping off an elderly Boondall couple left with an unsightly backyard mess to clean up.
Denise and Darryl Blight were targeted recently by the conmen, who offered to bitumenise their dirt driveway for $3000.
They poured the surface so shoddily bits of carpet, tree roots and bare earth are now showing through.
When workmen demanded $12,000, the couple resisted and agreed to pay $8000.
By then Mrs Blight, a 73-year-old with epilepsy, was shaking so much she accidentally entered the wrong bank account details and the money was not transferred.
She told her daughter-in-law, who contacted police and the Office of Fair Trading.
They arranged a time to come back to the couple's home to collect the money and waited for them to turn up, but the conmen must have smelled a rat and never showed.
"The conduct of this trader was despicable and illegal, and I am appalled at how they preyed
on vulnerable members of our community,'' Fair Trading executive director Brian Bauer said.
"The trader's work was substandard as the roller broke down during the job, leaving the surface uneven.
"There was only a thin spray of bitumen and tree roots could be seen poking through the completed driveway.''
Mr Bauer said the OFT sent out an inspector to the Narangba area as soon as they received a complaint from the Blights, but there was no sign of the bandits.
Mrs Blight said a man in a ute drove up to their house and told them he had leftover bitumen from a nearby job and would lay it for $3000.
"We've waited 34 years for a driveway so I was happy,'' she said.
"When the bobcat turned up, it went crazy and was doing wheel stands it was working so quickly.''
She said a truck had parked over the worst section so they couldn't see tree roots poking through the bitumen.
"Then one man said 'That will be $12,000'. Darryl's got kidney cancer and he went all funny.
"Darryl was a self-employed carpenter and always insisted on quotes, but with the cancer he's not thinking straight.''
Mr Bauer said door-to-door traders were required by law to give consumers a 10-day cooling off period and during that time could not begin work or accept money.
Consumers could cancel any agreement within this period without penalty.
Door-to-door traders must leave premises if directed and must not approach any residence displaying a 'do not knock' notice or sticker.
Free stickers can be ordered from the OFT website.
"Sometimes the scammers simply take large deposits, perform no work, and never return,'' Mr Bauer said.
"There is no way to get a refund as these types of traders usually vanish.
"The OFT dispatched a team to the Narangba area to follow up but, as so often happens, these traders can be very hard to catch.
"They didn't return to the address as they'd arranged and instead later sent the consumers an email chasing payment.
"These bitumen bandit operations are frequently set up by people from the UK and Europe.
"They sometimes set up a company using the details of backpackers or employees, making them very hard to track down.
"They rip off a few unsuspecting consumers leaving havoc and move on."
But the OFT has tracked down and prosecuted a number of itinerant traders recently.
Earlier this month, a bitumen layer was ordered to pay $50,000 by the Gympie Magistrates Court after charges were laid by the OFT.
Last month, another asphalt contractor was ordered to pay $12,000 by the Maroochydore Magistrates Court.
If you think you have seen these traders, contact the OFT on 13 QGOV (13 74 68).
Originally published as How elderly couple turned tables on scammers