Bitumen bandit scam targets Narangba retirees

18 September 2020

Consumers in north Brisbane are being warned by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to beware of itinerant bitumen traders offering driveway repairs and bitumen laying services after a Narangba couple recently fell victim to the scammers.

Fair Trading Executive Director Brian Bauer said the consumers, both in their 70s, had been approached at their home by a man who said he had left over bitumen and could lay their driveway on the same day for a heavily discounted fee.

“The trader’s work was substandard as the roller broke down during the job leaving the surface uneven,” Mr Bauer said.

“There was only a thin spray of bitumen and tree roots could be seen poking through the completed driveway. Afterwards the couple were told that the price had gone up from $3,000 to $12,000.

“The conduct of this trader was despicable and illegal, and I am appalled at how they preyed on vulnerable members of our community.

“Door-to-door traders are required by law to give consumers a 10-day cooling off period and during this time they can’t begin the work or accept any money. Consumers can cancel any agreement within this period without penalty.”

Door-to-door traders must leave your premises if directed and must not approach any residence displaying a 'do not knock' notice or sticker. Queensland residents can order a free sticker from the OFT website.

“Sometimes the scammers simply take large deposits, perform no work, and never return. There is no way to get a refund as these types of traders usually vanish,” Mr Bauer said.

“Luckily in this case the consumers’ daughter-in-law realised this was a scam and reported it.

“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.”

The OFT has successfully 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 Fair Trading, and last month, another asphalt contractor was ordered to pay $12,000 by the Maroochydore Magistrates Court.

“The best way for consumers to protect themselves is to be aware of this scam and share that information with their friends and family so they don’t get caught,” Mr Bauer said.

If you think you have seen these traders, contact the Office of Fair Trading on 13 QGOV (13 74 68) so we can track their movements and warn other consumers.