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Beware Of Dodgy Cowboy Builders!

Updated on May 19, 2013

Cowboy Builder's ruin lives

Having watch a TV program on Channel 5 (here in the UK) about cowboy builders and nearly getting into one's trap it's shocking how many of us fall into traps of these variety of people who think they can walk over everyone else and rip them off!

So what is a Cowboy builder? How do you avoid them? What do you do if you are a victim or know someone who is a victim of cowboy builders?

Here is a story about a cowboy builder named Paul.

Paul & Sons have been asked to renovated an old house of Mrs Evans and her husband who found their ad on a local newspaper.

They decide to contact this Paul, and make arrangements to meet him.

Paul arrives, looking a very neat wise man, shows he's ID and is now invited to inspect the building, looking and talking like a professional, he explains to Mrs Evans what needs to be done, adding some "building regualtion rules" he begins an estimate, tempting Mrs Evans with a price of £3000(GBP) she decides a lower price and they make a deal of £2,500

Paul had given her a reference to a building company based in another town, and a person she could call to ask about he's previous work,

Mrs Evans begins to trust this man, he's full of charm, full of talk, and finally agrees to begin the work as soon as possible.

The builder's get to work the next day, Mrs Evans is asked to pay £2,500 in advance in cash.

They start doing the work, 3 days later Paul claims that water is leaking from the roof, a broken window and the stairs are now considered unstable! (which they weren't before, but are now) and persuades Mrs Evans that for health and safety issues and as they will be renting out the property, these jobs must be done. Fair enough, Mrs Evans decides to pay the extra £8,500 in advance in cash, Mrs Evans wants to pay in cheque but Paul persuades her that it's better to pay by cash to avoid tax.

After 2 weeks (which Paul claims the materials will be in by) he comes back with 2 of he's friends with planks of cheap wood, cement and other building materials and begin the job, taking off the floor boards and placing old cheap wood, some infested with wood worms, covering the floor with new carpets which were chosen by Mrs Evans, but were in fact second hand, and then cementing the roof (all of this to act as if they are working)

After a few weeks Mrs Evans comes to inspect the job they've done, and finds out nobody is there, some small rusted scaffolding are left by the house, she looks inside and see's an unfinished job, the kitchen tiles were all out on the floor, the stairs were still unstable, but only one bedroom was done a little bit neat, just the floors were creeking badly!

Mrs Evans decides to phone them and see what's going on, Paul answers and says he'll be there tomorrow and is waiting for more materials, claiming that an accident has happened at a slate quarry preventing them to get more slates and tells Mrs Evans he has ordered guttering as the gutters were rusted, new tiles for the kitchen.

At the end of the week a delivery van comes in with the materials Paul has ordered, but since then nobody has come, a week later Mrs Evans receives a bill costing up to 12,000 pounds from a store selling building materials in her name instead of Paul's name! So she decides to contact him.

Time after time, day after day, nobody answers the phone, the phone rings and then it's switched off! It wasn't like that before, Paul or another of he's workers would answer the phone before, but this time, nobody answers!

What has happened?... Mrs Evans is now worried!

She decides to call a man named Tom Davison a previous customer of Paul, talking very jolly on the phone, Tom praises Paul for the work he did building their home, she mentioned the job being slow and not being able to contact him, Tom explains that he might be busy as they have lots of people phoning them in, and admits that he is a little slow in finishing the Job, he even claims Paul will give some money back if he's slow in doing the work!

Could Tom be telling the truth? Is Tom really who he says he is? I personally doubt it...don't you?

Mrs Evans is now stuck, she did sign a contract, but never had a copy of the contract herself which Paul had said he would send over the post, this is a bad mistake! the phone seems to be switched off every time Mrs Evans and her husband try to call Paul.

Now when it's too late, they realized they have been conned! as this is fraud. they decided on contacting the police, an officer comes and checks the house and see the damage he has done, because (as what they see) he has done some work, in these cases there is little the police can do, the police officer explains to her that this is a civil matter, and now she would have to take him to court, what the police can do is track him down, but Paul is very clever, the SIM card of he's mobile phone no longer works, he has thrown that away and made it impossible for the police to track him down, the address is even fake! Even Tom doesn't know who this Paul is!

Mrs Evans now decides to call Trading Standards, who have assisted her all though this terrible time, they eventually track down Paul from numerous complaints around the region, someone named Paul who calls himself Dave Jack and Bill, who's real name is Harry.

They managed to drag him to court eventually and Harry pleads guilty, and they and other victims are given compensation for the damage he's done.

Unfortunately, there are some people who have never managed to track people like these down, and many will have to live with the mistake they've committed adding more misery and expenses.

Dealing with dodgy builders and how to avoid them!

The above story might be a bit lame, but it's an example of a fraudster and a victim in one way. There are many ways you can be conned, no matter how careful you may be! You just need to be a little cautious!

How do you tell someone is a cowboy builder?

The best way of telling someone is a cowboy builder is by reading their mind, but that only goes for professional mind readers.

Cowboy builder's can fool the smartest person, they are talkative confident and enthusiastic, they sound just like an average professional jolly good builder, they always answer your calls and come on time to visit,(especially when money is coming their way) they will look around, and give you an estimate, and a tempting offer to get them in, they may tell you they are part of an organization which they know you won't look into, and give you a professional fake ID and a business card, they may also give you a reference, if you were to call that person, they were either a close friend or a relative who are in most cases in the game.

As you see, telling if someone is a cowboy builder is not so easy! But there are ways of avoiding the obvious ones and being careful.

Why do people fall to these cowboys?

There are several ways why cowboy builders get people into their trap and carry on working like below:

  1. People don’t ask for references and to verify them by contacting and visiting building works of previous clients.
  2. In most cases there are no signed home improvement contract
  3. Clients don’t obtain three detailed quotes before starting work
  4. Employers don’t appoint an approved contractor or one belonging to a professional organisation – and don’t double-check that they are a current fully paid-up member
  5. Clients go for the cheaper option of paying in cash, rather than a properly invoiced job that may include VAT
  6. Some people are unable or not willing to wait for a reputable builder.

These are the top main reasons why people fall into the hands of cowboy builders, as we have seen from point number 1 many cowboy builders can give us a reference, just because they give you a reference with a name, doesn't mean they are not dodgy, it is wise to ask at least three or more previous clients, and also ask to see a job they've done before!

Although you can't tell someone is a cowboy builder, there are warning signs out there that could tell you that you are about to pay someone to more damage and expense to your home:-

  • A cowboy builder doesn't offer a contract, or sign the one you give them, some cowboy builders will give out what's believe to be a contract, for you to sign, one is supposed to be given to you in hand and not by post e-mail (or pigeon mail!)
  • Documents are handwritten and don’t give much detail
  • Cowboy builders offer a discount for cash and asks for money upfront
  • They give a detailed quote and schedule of works but don't follow them
  • They claim to work for a company that has a good reputation – maybe they used to work for them but got the sacked, or even a company of a family member – Just because they have links to a good name doesn't mean they have the expertise to deliver, if they are working for a company, then the name and contact details of the person's company should be on any card they give you. And even if there is, you should always ask for more than one reference and it is always a good idea to check their previous work, if they try and talk you out of it, there is something they are trying to hide!

The best tip for choosing any good reputable builder, or even a roofer painter and decorator, or a plumber is to ask people you trust, they are more likely to invite you and see the work of that person they recommend, ask friends relatives or neighbours, they may also refer you to people they know who have also had good experiences with that company or person.

Never take one person's word for it, always ask around, different people may have different experiences.

Never make any rushed agreements, just because one is cheaper or sounds so good doesn't make them trustable. Always be open minded and look around and get quotes from different builders.

Good builders appreciate and understand you if you ask so many questions, so don't be shy to ask! It is important to ask questions to help choose the right builder for you!

Ask them how long they've been working in the business, and where have they been working, local builders are more likely to give you a name of a person they think you may know, or names of homes they worked at, builders from other places will give you contact references of previous clients including ways of contacting them and offer to invite you to see their previous job.

Ask them for a written down quote on materials and labour costs.

And ask to see a letter or contract of agreement, insurance such as public liability, and insurance-backed guarantees.

What if you are already a victim what do you do?

Once the damage is done, you will need to report it to the police, as this is fraud, however, in most cases these people are very clever, they may act as if they have done the job or are in the process of doing the job, they may also make it hard for the police to track them down, the best option, would then be trading standards, (or any professional association representing trading standards professionals in your country) they will investigate this, and in most cases catch rouge builders out, you will then be able to put them in court for the damages they committed, most of these dodgy trades people are caught because they are doing the same dodgy thing to other people who also filed in a complaint, unfortunately there are many who still get away with it, so taking the precautions above and making good judgement can prevent you from ever experiencing any of this.

Visit for more info (readers from UK)

"The government's TrustMark scheme is designed to help the general public avoid cowboy traders."
"The government's TrustMark scheme is designed to help the general public avoid cowboy traders." | Source


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      4 years ago from Ponteland

      Worst builders I have ever come across is a company called WeatherAll (NE) owned by a Mark George Fittes.

      Not only did WeatherAll make a horrific mess which had to be rectified by reputable builders, they also charged us 20% VAT when they weren't VAT Registered.

      The owner drives around in his girlfriends Black Range Rover, and doesn't have much in the way of assets apart from a cheap website and a mobile phone.

      WeatherAll just employ cheap subcontractors, use cheap materials and hire cheap tools.

      Fittes has previous CCJ's and is well known to the authorities, his company currently operate in Ponteland, Northumberland and North East England.

      You have been warned!!!!!


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