Our trading Trading Standards team is warning homeowners across Devon to be wary of scammers who are trying to take advantage of concerns about ‘toxic mould’.
The Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service says that there have been a number of instances of scammers attempting to dupe householders into handing over money for fake ‘toxic mould’ surveys.
We’ve also had reports of cold callers targeting residents and offering ‘free surveys’ of homes to check for signs of mould.
Mould can be extremely harmful, and scammers are trying to take advantage of the public’s concerns following the tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak. The toddler died as a result of exposure to toxic mould in his family’s flat in Rochdale in 2020.
In some cases, the scammers will then use high-pressure sales tactics to trick the householder into paying an ‘admin fee’ of £50-£250, which they say is necessary to secure a government energy-efficiency grant.
Often they fail to return to carry out work, and victims are unable to contact them to get their money back.
And if they do return the work is often poor quality or unnecessary, which as one Exeter couple found out to their cost, can make things worse and even damage your home
One young couple, from Exeter, with underlying health conditions, fell foul of a business that promised that they could solve ‘all their damp and mould’ problems with spray-foam.
“We were concerned the damp was putting our health at risk, so we had to get something done,” she said. “We believed their promises.”
She added: “They quoted us more than £5,000 but said they could reduce that to half if we signed on the dotted line there and then, and once they walked out that door, we would have to pay the full amount. We felt really pressured.”
They went ahead with the work but within a short time they realised something was wrong:
“Instead of our home becoming more insulated the walls in the house were wet to touch and mould was appearing everywhere. It’s taken six months, but we have finally got it removed and thanks to Trading Standards we have got our money back.
“I just don’t want anybody else to go through this. We are still waiting to see if there is any lasting damage to our home.”
Scammers are also attempting to arrange surveys by text and phone call and in one case a retired teacher was almost scammed out of £7,000 by cold callers who told her they had found toxic mould in her attic.
Fakir Osman, Head of the Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service, said:
“Scammers are trying to make money out of people’s legitimate concerns following the tragic death of a toddler and that’s despicable.
“They are exploiting elderly residents, parents, and anybody they think they can trick into handing over money under false pretences.
“Don’t engage with anyone at the door, and never invite a cold caller into your home and never respond to offers of home repair work you receive via text or phone – in most cases these are sent by scammers seeking to steal money or personal details.
“If you are thinking about installing energy-efficiency or anti-damp measures in your home we always advise you get recommendations from friends and family, Trade Associations or from the Trading Standards run ‘Buy with Confidence’ approved trader scheme.”
Councillor Rufus Gilbert, Devon County Coucil’s Cabinet Member responsible for Trading Standards said:
“As people worry about their energy bills many are cutting back on heating, which can lead to problems with damp and condensation.
“This is how scammers operate, they see an opportunity and try to cash in on people’s legitimate concerns about mould and energy efficiency.
“We will continue to work to ensure that those responsible for scams are brought to justice.”
For consumer advice, please call the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133.