Travelling con men dupe Victorians out of $300, 000 – don’t be afraid to say ‘no’

Originally published through the Age

Melbourne resident Doreen Ditchfield was concerned when a man, who told her his name was James, showed up at her door and told her she needed work done on her house.

He insisted that she pay him in cash and told her if she didn’t get the excessive – and increasingly expensive – work completed, then mice and rats would come in through her roof.

A few days later, however, Doreen found herself $7300 dollars out of pocket, with her property in much the same condition.

“I thought he was genuine,” she said. “He just appeared, took the money and disappeared.

“I was embarrassed that I didn’t wake up. When I think of all that’s happened – why didn’t I wake up?”

Travelling con men have stolen more than  $300,000 from vulnerable Victorians in December alone, Minister for Consumer Affairs Jane Garrett revealed today.

The scams work through men showing up unannounced on doorsteps and offering to provide services such as roofing, painting, cleaning and repair jobs. They insist on being paid in cash, often using charm and intimidation to pressure residents into paying them in advance.

Minister Garrett said the con men commonly target the most vulnerable people in society, such as the elderly, people with low English language proficiency, the disabled, stay at home parents, and residents recovering from disasters such as fire or storms.

The government is launching an $186,000 dollar campaign to warn Victorians of common tactics used by con men.

Minister Garrett said residents should say no to tradesmen they haven’t contacted who are offering maintenance work and that these men are breaking the law if they don’t leave immediately.

“These people are very good at what they do,” she said. “Do not give people who come to your door cash. Do not accept their services. Ask them to leave. Call crimestoppers, and look out for people in your community who are vulnerable, who these people will target.”

Doreen, who is featured in the campaign, hopes others will be able to learn from her experience.

“They come around and prey on the elderly,” she said.

“Why do they do it to people? It’s just so wrong. They do it all the time – and I’m possibly one of the lucky ones. A lady in our area, they took her to the ATM and took all her money.”

The campaign will use print, television, radio and social media, and will be accessible in 20 different languages.

If you encounter a travelling con man or someone you think may be a travelling con man, call the government hotline at 1300 133 408.


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