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France warned over rise of costly building scams

Scams by emergency builders, plumbers and locksmiths are on the rise in France - with the average scam bill reaching as much as €3,000 - the national fraud office has warned.

The scams see unscrupulous workers coming to make apparently-simple emergency repairs - such as a tap leaking - which are then botched on purpose, without the homeowner knowing. The same workers or building company then charge the homeowner double, triple - or more - to fix the now much-larger problem.

Such scams have become more common in Ile-de-France, figures suggest, as a new awareness campaign is launched by national fraud office la Direction Départementale de la Protection des Populations (DDPP). Its slogan is “Faites-vous dépanner. Pas arnaquer (Get yourself fixed, not scammed)”.

The DDPP said that more than 1,600 complaints about this kind of scam had been recorded in 2018.

One victim, whose case was reported in newspaper Le Parisien, was hit with a scam bill of €2,000 to fix a simple water leak.

Older people can be particularly vulnerable to scams. One elderly woman with Alzheimer’s was reportedly given a €30,000 fraudulent bill for the installation of a boiler, prompting the local gendarmerie to investigate the company in question. They found that the company had in fact committed similar offences before.

Companies operating the scams may provide compelling arguments to encourage victims to pay, including giving “reasons” why their insurance company would not pay out for certain damage. In most cases, these reasons are incorrect.

The DDPP said that because fees charged for building work can vary significantly, and are not linked to any set charges, the best way to avoid being scammed is prevention.

This includes checking the references of a company before paying for any work, setting a fixed fee in advance, researching the scope of a project as much as possible yourself to educate yourself about the amount of work required, and asking for several quotes for a project before going ahead.

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