Crooks are operating fitted kitchen scams from shops purporting to sell big name brands, claims a lawyer who has tackled a number of cases.
Fraudsters typically ask for deposits of between 30% and 50% of the estimate when they take fitted kitchen orders but do not pass these on to the factory.
The fraudsters have shop premises like any other business
Bordeaux lawyer Franck Dupouy said: “When they have 30 to 50 orders and clients are starting to get impatient, they suddenly shut up shop, taking the deposits with them.
“Kitchen fraud is not new, it has been going on for ages, but what is different is that some crooks are now doing it under the noses of national firms and from shops like any other.
“Before, customers were duped when they went to events such as fairs, and signed up for kitchens at special discounts.”
Move from town to town to run scams
Mr Dupouy has defended two group actions for customers who lost money, mainly in Bordeaux and around Arcachon (Gironde). He is nearing the end of a third, involving €2million in total for 40 people.
“Usually, the crooks try to argue that it is a simple bankruptcy, and say they are sorry and will try to get more work to pay back the victims,” he said.
“But I have been able to show they have a record of similar scams in other areas and operate from town to town, which makes it a criminal affair.”
The best the victims can hope for is €3,000 compensation
In cases that have gone to court, the sentence is usually a period of imprisonment of under a year, which the criminals serve at home with an electronic bracelet.
“We can only get significant money back if they have assets, which happened once when the crook put the money into building up a property portfolio.
“Most of the time, the best the clients can hope for is €3,000 from the criminal compensation fund,” Mr Dupouy said.
“Nevertheless, it is important people stick with cases, because with a criminal record, it is harder for crooks to do it again.
“Alone, clients have little power, but with group actions, prosecutors start to take notice.”
Professional rugby player lost €5,000
Among high-profile victims is professional rugby player Walter Desmaison, who lost €5,000 after ordering a kitchen from a crooked franchisee of the national chain Mobalpa.
Mr Dupouy pointed out that big brands are not involved with the fraud and are victims too, because of the reputational damage done.
“But they can help getting convictions for the real crooks.”