Report rip-off merchants in Scotland to new consumer advice service

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If you’ve experienced dreadful service, been ripped off by a rogue trader or need advice on how to save money, consumeradvice.scot should be your first port of call.

Launched in April, as a result of £600,000 from the Scottish Government, the new online and telephone consumer advice service aims to be accessible to all.

Building up intelligence to share with Trading Standards teams is a key task for charity's chief executive Andrew Bartlett. (Pic: Colin Templeton)

Building up intelligence to share with Trading Standards teams is a key task for charity's chief executive Andrew Bartlett. (Pic: Colin Templeton)

Free support can be accessed online via web chat, email or social media, as well as the freephone number 0808 164 6000.

Run by the charity Advice Direct Scotland, www.consumeradvice.scot is currently handling around 250 enquiries every day.

The most common enquiries relate to used cars, furniture sales, building work, package holidays and insurance.

But the service will also be working hand in hand with Trading Standards staff in local authorities the length and breadth of the country to combat illegal traders.

As such, Andrew Bartlett, the charity’s chief executive officer, is hoping more people will contact the free service to help build up a database of rogue traders.

Andrew explained: “We have volunteers who provide generalist advice via Advice Direct Scotland.

“However, we also have a team of 90 specialist staff working on consumer advice in our two centres, based in Glasgow and Stornoway.

“Together, they provide advice to people on a range of issues, from buying products online and in shops to changing providers and purchasing travel insurance.

“However, we are also working closely with Trading Standards officers to try to target rogue traders across the country.

“We want people to report them to us so that we can hopefully stop them from targeting anyone else.

“We’re talking about people who, at first, appear believable and give you what looks like a professional quote but their business model is to rip you off.

“We’re not asking people to put themselves in any danger but if they can provide a description of the trader, the quote they provided, a mobile number or bank account details they transferred any monies to, that would be a great help.

“If people can give us a vehicle registration number that is often a huge help too – it’s not as easy to change that as quickly as it is to change the business’s name.

“The people we want to target are those who set out to deliberately extort money – it’s criminal behaviour.

“Sadly, these people have all the patter and it’s not until after they take on the work that people realise they have been ripped off.

“It’s not just the financial costs involved; there’s the psychological toll it takes too.

“By gaining intelligence on these traders, we can pass it on to those with statutory powers, like Trading Standards officers, to act on it.

“The more information we have, the more opportunity there is for enforcement action to be taken to get these people off the streets.

“And rather than reacting when people have a problem, we’ll be able to let them know there’s an issue in advance.

“That won’t just help Scottish consumers but also the very many legitimate traders who do offer a good, trust-worthy service.

“There’s a lot of builders and traders in Scotland who take a great deal of pride in their work and do a really good job.

“It’s a shame for them to be tarred with the same brush but, unfortunately, when people have a bad experience, it’s often difficult for them to trust anyone.”

Andrew is also keen to stress that people can access the service, free of charge, from their mobile or landline and can choose which platform to do so on.

With so many services now accessed online, the charity not only boasts advice on its website but can also deal with customers who contact them via email, Facebook and web chat – which is becoming more popular with clients.

Andrew said: “Twenty five years ago, you would have to have been wealthy to have a mobile phone. But these days, most of us use our phones for everything.

“So we wanted to make sure that, even if someone is sitting on a bus or in the office, they can access our services via their phone.

“Web chat enables people to contact our service, free and confidentially, while they are on the go.

“It’s incredible to think you can be travelling to work while sorting out your finances! That’s the beauty of the service.

“People might not think saving £20 a week is worth the effort but, if you count it up, over the course of a year that’s more than £1000.”

As technology has advanced to help charities like Advice Direct Scotland, scammers have also moved online and are becoming ever more sophisticated.

While elderly and vulnerable people are often their target, younger people are also being caught out, with more fake goods now changing hands.

So consumeradvice.scot has this week launched an online service to help people discern whether an internet deal really is too good to be true.

Andrew said: “On Tuesday, Vistalworks went live on our website.

“It’s a tool that highlights if you are buying goods from a high risk website.

“It’s often the case that if something looks too good to be true, it’s counterfeit.

“We’d far rather people check before they buy, than come to us after the fact.

“People have bought branded goods that aren’t even made by the company.

“The product goes for good money because of the brand name but the simple truth is that it’s a fake.

“A lot of younger people are getting caught out by these kinds of scams – even though they are pretty internet savvy.

“Vistalworks will be a great tool in our armoury to give people confidence in what they’re buying online.

“It’s about taking sensible steps to ensure what you’re buying is the real thing.”

Via its social enterprise arm, Advice Direct Scotland also operates the Scottish Power Hardship Fund, which has delivered more than £20 million to people in fuel debt UK-wide since 2014.

Andrew added: “It tends to be households on low incomes that we help.

“Each client is also asked to seek money advice to help them budget in future.

“We don’t want to give them a sticking plaster; we want to help them deal with the underlying problem.”

Call consumeradvice.scot on freephone 0808 164 6000, email advice@consumeradvice.scot or access web chat at www.consumeradvice.scot.

Jamie Hepburn launched new service at Glasgow contact centre

Consumer protection is now a devolved service.

So while Advice Direct Scotland used to be a small part of the Great British service, it is now operating solely in Scotland.

And its new service has been funded to the tune of £600,000 by the Scottish Government.

So when it launched in April, the Scottish Parliament’s Business Minister Jamie Hepburn was on hand at the charity’s Glasgow contact centre to hear the first calls coming through.

He said: “This new consumer advice service will give the people of Scotland access to advice that matters to them.

“Whether they’re experiencing issues with a used car they’ve purchased, a holiday booking they’ve faced problems with, or a trader who has been working on their property, the new service is there to help.

“We are using Scotland’s devolved consumer powers to provide a flexible service which protects and empowers the people of Scotland while also supporting the many businesses in our country which are innovative, efficient and fair.”

Faye Wilson, of the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland, added: “It’s vital the public have access to advice and information when faced with consumer problems.

“It is also important to ensure that intelligence gleaned from the experiences of consumers can be used to protect the public and legitimate businesses from unfair trading.”