Hard times create boom for travelling conmen
A rise in prosecutions of travelling conmen, combined with home renovators struggling through harder economic times, is behind a huge leap in overall fines against dodgy and unlicensed builders in NSW.
Between 2008 and the end of last year , annual fines and penalties imposed on unscrupulous home builders and tradies more than doubled to almost $509,000.
Last calendar year, 46 traders were found guilty in court of 156 different offences across the state, compared with just 20 builders fined a total of $114,000 the year before.
''One of the significant increases is our particular focus on travelling conmen,'' NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe said.
These itinerants seeking easy money were divided into two groups, he said.
The first came into Australia from countries such as Ireland and England and went door-to-door offering to do minor handyman work.
''They particularly target elderly people,'' Mr Stowe said. ''[And] we've got our home-grown travelling conmen, families and the like.''
The national travelling conmen hotline, launched in October 2011 had helped bolster prosecutions of people promising more than they could deliver in home improvements, he said.
But when times were tough renovators also turned to cheaper tradies who cut corners.
''We react to what's happening in the marketplace,'' Mr Stowe said.
Dodgy builders tended to target seniors, who were more trusting and vulnerable, and people from non-English-speaking backgrounds.
But Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts said it was not difficult to check whether a tradesperson had legitimate qualifications. "Consumers are entitled to know their renovations are being carried out by a qualified, licensed and reputable tradesperson,'' Mr Roberts said.
"I urge consumers to protect themselves by checking the tradesperson holds a valid licence.
"You can check you are dealing with a licensed and reputable tradesperson by calling Fair Trading on 13 32 20 or visiting the website fairtrading.nsw.gov.au."