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A tradie stole from me

Date

The Big Idea

Big ideas are what successful business is all about. Each week, Alexandra Cain takes a look at anything and everything to help your business shoot the lights out.

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Watch your tools, boys.

Watch your tools, boys.

I had a tradesperson steal something precious to me and my family a few weeks ago. I didn’t realise it had been stolen for a little while. There’s no way I can prove who did it, but I know who it was.

The company that did the work was a major, listed Australian business. Because of this, I felt I could trust whomever it sent to do the job. Wrong.

It’s the first time a tradesperson has stolen something from me in all the years I have been renovating. At first I thought I’d just misplaced it, but I’ve turned the house upside down and it’s nowhere.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard of tradies stealing things. A woman I know had her engagement ring stolen, after having had the same group of builders in her house for six months while it was being renovated. She was devastated someone she thought she could trust, and with whom she had built a good relationship, would do that to her.

But the best story involves someone I know who was asked one morning by a tradesperson whether he was going to watch a big football game on the particular night in question. The victim, we’ll call him Wal, told the tradie he was going to a mate’s to watch it. When Wal got home, the place had been cleared out.

It’s easy to say Wal should have known better, and should never have told a stranger he was going out. But as far as I know, most people approach most exchanges with others with a degree of trust. Well, you do until proven otherwise. You would not expect what was a seemingly innocuous question about a football game to lead to a major robbery, or at least I wouldn’t.

I should say that in my experience, 99 per cent of tradies are extremely trustworthy and honest. I must have had a couple of dozen through places I’ve renovated and this is the first time I’ve ever had a problem. I guess I’d been lulled into a false sense of security.

And it’s not like I left the item in question out – the tradie who stole it had to go into a wardrobe to get it. But where I had hidden it, it was right at eye level where he was working, albeit at the back of a drawer. I guess the temptation was too great. I feel so stupid.

So here is my advice for making sure your valuables are safe if you have people working in your home:

  • Buy a safe and bolt it to the floor. Of course, the problem with this is that it’s likely you’re going to have to get a tradie to do this for you. Which means that he (or she) will know you have a safe. So pick someone with whom you’ve had a long-term relationship. It’s no guarantee the person who installs the safe won’t come back at some point and relieve you of it, but it’s unlikely and it’s a risk you’re going to have to take.
  • Only use tradies that have been personally recommended to you. Again, it’s no guarantee they will be trustworthy, but it’s better than getting someone out of the local paper who is completely untried and tested.
  • Don’t leave precious things around the house when you have tradespeople working in it. Put all jewellery in the aforementioned safe, including pieces you wear every day. In fact, especially things you wear every day.
  • Never, ever tell a tradie when you will be out or on holidays. Doing so is basically an invitation for them to come back and rob you.
  • Install adequate security systems. Wal ended up putting in motion sensor lights and an expensive alarm system just in case the thief decided to come back. Luckily so far this system has worked.

If you are a tradesperson or a building firm and you have people working for you, it might be an idea to spell out the consequences if staff are found to have stolen a customer’s belongings. Those consequences should include notifying the police if an employee is found in possession of anything that does not belong to them. You should also do background checks on your staff.

If you are a tradie who has ever stolen from a customer, I have this message for you. Taking something of someone else’s and flogging it at the local pub might get you a few quid you can put through the pokies. But you’ve probably deprived that person of something much more valuable than money. You might have taken away their memories and family history. You’ve made them less trusting of others. And now they feel less safe in their own home. You’re a scumbag and deep down, you know it.

Have you ever had a service provider steal from you? Share your story here.

59 comments

  • Define `service provider' please? Are we talking about unscrupulous lawyers, accountants, financial planners? Superfund mangers screwing contributors? The list could go on a long way.

    Commenter
    rustynails
    Location
    theburbs
    Date and time
    August 15, 2014, 7:27AM
    • Hate to hurt your ego rustynails....those you mentioned, when they steal are easily documented and therefore very easily prosecuted. Money, no matter how well hidden always leaves a trail. However, given your reaction I'd say a very raw nerve has been touched by this article. Why? Have you sat and watched tv on someone else's set while you should have been working and they were out?

      Commenter
      Andrew
      Location
      Elwood
      Date and time
      August 15, 2014, 8:47AM
    • Andrew - they are easily documented and therefore prosecuted? Tell me, how many bankers are in jail following the extensive illegality of the GFC? The mis-selling of CDOs that were illegally mis-rated and passed of as high quality. What about the bankers that were caught out fixing inter-bank lending rates? Tell me who went to jail for that?

      What about the military and their leaders who have admitted to illegal acts such as torture? Have they gone to jail?

      It is nothing about documentation, it is about the judicial system being blind to professional crimes carried out by the rich and powerful.

      Commenter
      Cam_snapper
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 15, 2014, 9:28AM
    • I've always found tradies to be extremely unprofessional. Whether they are late for agreed appointments (or don't show up at all) and don't bother to call to let you know, or they tread mess through your house and can't be bothered to clean up before they leave, or say that they will finish a job within a certain time frame but then go and take on other jobs and leave you waiting, these people have zero respect for their client and absolutely no idea how to behave in a professional manner.

      If any of my staff behaved as poorly as your average tradie they would be fired on the spot.

      Commenter
      Kit Walker
      Location
      St Kilda
      Date and time
      August 15, 2014, 10:18AM
    • Australian tradies - trade skills (good) - business skills (worst in the known universe).
      What the hell is wrong with these characters? They make all kinds off appointments and never even bother showing up (or let you know they're running late). Do they have any idea how frustrating it is having to stay in all day on the off-chance they "might show up" when they say they will? Classic was a carpet-layer who rocked up four hours late "sorry mate, me and the wife had doctor's appointments". From the smell of his breath a "pub appointment" was the more likely.

      Commenter
      Dave Murray
      Location
      Joondalup
      Date and time
      August 15, 2014, 1:55PM
    • i can't quite work out how this bird knows the tradie took it. perhaps she did mislay the item

      Commenter
      Gaz
      Location
      Yarrawonga
      Date and time
      August 15, 2014, 3:21PM
  • Should start by saying I agree with the author that 99% are good blokes!
    A tradie stole my grandfather's gold watch (50 years service present) while working at his house some years ago. Fortunately, I happened to actually see the watch in his ute and confronted him. He lied and claimed it was his and then went on the offensive, claiming all sorts of things about me. Being the proactive sort, I ignored him, leaned over and just opened his ute, took the watch and commented on the coincidence that the engraved details on the back were identical to my grandfather's.
    At that point, I (sincerely) gave him the chance to come clean, apologise, etc but instead he just stormed off. Needless to say, we didn't pay the bill he then had the nerve to send!
    Rather than calling the police, I then put his name and details out through my rather substantial local network. Not long after, his house was up for sale and he moved on.
    Connected to (how strongly I'm not sure) is the tradie practice of discounts for cash, to avoid paying tax. Someone who thinks that is OK practice, I would argue, has a slightly faulty moral compass to start with...

    Commenter
    NewsHound
    Location
    Work
    Date and time
    August 15, 2014, 7:37AM
    • Yes, why shouldn't tradies pay tax just like the rest of us? They avoid paying tax by not issuing receipts.

      We had a carpet cleaner who charged us the regular rate. We asked for a receipt on numerous occasions but never got one. "I don't have my receipt book with me", "Yes I will email one to you tonight".

      Lesson learnt - if they can't supply me with a receipt there and then, they don't get paid.

      Commenter
      Claude
      Location
      Rodent Hill
      Date and time
      August 15, 2014, 8:23AM
    • Not only that. Paying in cash is full of danger. If the work is substantial enough, breaks or causes injury or worse, you now have no receipt or evidence that the work was done by that person (nil recourse) as in paying cash, you usually do things without the normal paperwork and compliance certs.

      Commenter
      David
      Date and time
      August 15, 2014, 8:53AM
    • "Yes, why shouldn't <large companies> pay tax just like the rest of us? They avoid paying tax by <spending money on accountants, lawyers, and offshore tax shell companies>"

      There, fixed that for you.

      How is it that a tradesmen saving 10% is an outrage, yet big companies or wealthy individuals doing far worse is considered "smart business". Apple paying $163m tax on $27b revenue, Sydney Airport having paid zero dollars tax since privatisation, or for that matter the 75 ultra-high earning Australian individuals who earned more than $1m each in tax year 2011-2012 and paid.....none.

      Commenter
      Cam_snapper
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 15, 2014, 9:35AM

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