Plumbing, whether we like it or not, has a massive potential for shady practices. This article was written to give you a bit of an insight into some of the common scams run in the plumbing world and a few tips on how to avoid them. How do we know this stuff? After years of being in the plumbing industry, not only have we heard thousands of horror stories but we’ve been called in to fix other plumber’s disasters many times. So, how do you identify plumbing scams and avoid getting ripped off by a plumber?
Keep reading as we share with you how to identify plumbing scams and tips to stay away from dishonest operators…
PLUMBING SCAM 1: “I DON’T HAVE MY PLUMBERS LICENSE ON ME”
Chances are, if this is the response you get when asking the question, “can I see your license?”, the plumber you’re about to hire is unlicensed, uninsured, or not properly qualified. There are industry standards that govern a plumber’s work and without the requisite licenses and qualifications, your plumber will do whatever they can to get your money and “fix” your problem.
PLUMBING SCAM 2: “BAIT & SWITCH”
The Bait & Switch scam is one that involves material upselling tricks. There are plumbers out there who offer top-notch, high-worth materials, sold to the unsuspecting customer as being of the best quality and lasting a much longer time, thereby not needing replacement as soon as the cheaper alternative. The scam is they then swap out this superior product with much cheaper gear, at a highly inflated price, pocketing the profit.
Not only is this dishonest practice, but there’s a high chance you’ll have to redo the work. The kicker with this one is that it probably won’t break-down straight away and by the time it does, the plumber your hired is no longer contactable or they could argue the issue has come about from a different problem.
- Don’t trust vague information. Look up reviews
- Ask your plumber to itemise the bill in writing
- Make sure what’s on your receipt corresponds to what’s behind your tiles before they go on
PLUMBING SCAM 3: AN EXPENSIVE LOOKING HOME IS A PLUMBING SCAM MAGNET
Upmarket looking properties will catch the attention of scammers. So too, if they see an expensive car in the driveway.
Plumbers aren’t bound by any law to apply a fixed rate and scammers then apply the logic – you can afford to pay more purely because they believe you can afford it.
Four ways to avoid this:
- Get at least three quotes from different plumbers. Apply this general rule: the more complex the job, the more quotes you need.
- From this, you’ll get a better idea of what the average cost of the job is.
- On smaller jobs, look for companies that offer half-hourly rates to prevent being overcharged.
- Look for companies that offer fixed price options – a quote for the completed job.
PLUMBING SCAM 4: REPLACE THE PIPES
A trustworthy plumber knows that changing a fixture or pipe can be a serious investment and you might need a few days to think this over. A classic tactic of plumbing scammers is to use high-pressure upselling tactics.
In fact, dodgy plumbers will pressure you on just about any job, so you feel the need to get it done asap without getting comparison quotes. They do this by raising the importance level of everything from a toilet blockage through to a broken pipe, saying, “if we don’t fix it straight away, it could result in x happening, which would actually be much more costly”.
PLUMBING SCAM 5: “SHOCK & AWE”
Dodgy plumbers will often try to overwhelm and confuse home owners by offering a huge range of solutions. This tactic is employed to avoid direct questions and make the choice too difficult, which often results in the owner saying something like, “Oh, this is all too much, let me just leave it in your professional hands”.
Reliable plumbers will offer you one or two tailored solutions and explain the process without any pressure.
PLUMBING SCAM 6: THE “LOW-BALL”
Scammers dupe the budget-conscious by offering one of the following baits:
- “low-ball” rate;
- “once in a lifetime offer”;
- free estimation without even seeing the job or
- “pay a lower rate now before someone books me”
If the plumber takes your cash without an invoice/receipt, it’s a clear sign of a scam. Not only are they potentially trying to dodge the tax system, but if their rates are ridiculously cheap, they’re likely hiding their lack of certification, knowledge or insurance.
PLUMBING SCAM 7: THE “BUNDLE”
Plumbers may offer a “bundle service” where they suggest an upgrade or something additional to what you originally requested them to quote on to upgrade/repair a fixture. Their reasoning behind this is to save you time and money. We’re not here to say that all bundle deals are scams but be super careful, if they offer it on the spot and it seems made-up, ask yourself, do you really need that extra service? If you have doubts, get another quote from another plumber (see scam 5).
Ask yourself, am I really saving money by replacing my entire toilet because it has a wobbly seat or damaged wax o-ring? Having said that, it can be tough to recognise that not all up-charges are dodgy plumbing scams. Sometimes they’re necessary and the better choice. Consider a toilet that won’t stop running – a lot of the time repair is possible but sometimes it’s not. In this case, the up-front cost of replacing the toilet might seem high but a trouble-free, low-flow toilet, is a great investment that will pay off in the long run.
PLUMBING SCAM 8: DOOR-TO-DOOR SALES
Just because someone’s wearing a plumber’s uniform, doesn’t mean you should automatically trust them – especially if they just rock up to your door, unannounced, offering some too-good-to-true deal. Not only could this person be a thief, in the true sense of the word, and steal from your home, but these door-to-door plumbers will usually employ every single one of the above points in order to scam you out of your hard earned money. More often than not, they’ll also leave you with more issues than you started with.
If you do happen to come across a plumber trying to grow their business by doing a door knock campaign, protect yourself by asking for details before they enter your home. Ask to see their ID card, proof of license, company details, and registered address – and make sure you take a photo. Ask them to wait a moment. A quick Google search on their particulars will give you a pretty good indication if they’re legitimate or not. If you feel uncomfortable in this situation in anyway, don’t be afraid to say “No”, shut the door, and/or call the police.
PLUMBING SCAM 9: “JUST SIGN THIS PAGE & WE’LL COMPLETE THE REST LATER”
If you’re signing an incomplete agreement, it could allow for the plumber to leave the job at any time without completing it or add in extra charges along the way. The worst we’ve seen is when the the job hasn’t even started and the customer’s paid an up-front deposit.
Here are a few tips to help avoid this scam:
- Make sure you get everything in writing
- Keep advance and intermediate payments to a minimum
- Ask for an estimate or even fixed price quote before the project starts
PLUMBING SCAM 10: SELF-APPRAISING PLUMBERS
“Believe me, I’m the best” – the highest form of credibility are customer testimonials, reviews, and previous successful projects. The aim with this scam is to impress you when, in reality, there is no meaningful explanation about what they really offer.
Do your homework and check them out online – Google them and check for customer reviews, look up their Facebook and check the review page and ask them for at least two of their most recent customers that would vouch for them.
SCAM 11: THE “CLEAN-UP”
Pluming can be a messy job. More often than not we’re dealing with a lot of waste and rubbish. Most plumbers clean up after themselves – some better than others.
However, we’ve come across these “clean-up” plumbing scams whereby the plumber approaches you towards the end of the job and lets you know that to clean up the mess they have to charge you an additional cleaning fee. At this point, you have little choice but to pay the additional fee or do the cleaning yourself.
Our recommendation is to confirm this part of the job upfront with your plumber, before you give them the job.
Here’s a quick list of things to look for to avoid plumbing scams:
- Ensure the plumbing company has an official registered address, telephone number, website, email address, and opening hours.
- Check how long the business has been operating for.
- Be wary of plumbers that accept payment “under the table”.
- Be cautious about plumbers who come unsolicited and don’t volunteer proof of qualifications, license, insurance, etc – especially if they employ high-pressure sales tactics at all costs or requesting cash upfront.
- Delve into the plumber’s website, service appraisals and credentials. Check for social proof!
- Trust companies that feature photos of real professionals and testimonials.
- Consider searching professional organisations such as the Master Plumbers Association.
- Never accept a verbal offer with vague or ambiguous details. A quote with full details in writing is the only foolproof way to avoid a tradie scam.
- Don’t believe plumbers’ quotes that look too good to be true. A licensed expert usually comes with plenty of experience and years of learning. This expertise comes at a cost. Always read the contract before you sign it.
- Discuss with the contractor who will do the work. If it’s not them ask for the sub-contractor’s qualifications and responsibilities. A decent plumber will always reply honestly to make you feel comfortable.
- Check out the plumber’s schedule. Ensure he won’t leave you with a mess behind or overtime charges for unexpected delays.
If you get an odd feeling in your gut when dealing with someone, trust it. Do some up-front investigations to get the best long-term results. If you do come across a scammer, don’t be afraid to report them.
Of course, given you’re on our website, you could always just get in contact with your local Pro Plumber and completely avoid any of the above plumbing scams. We invite you to ask as many questions as you like, take your time in deciding what you want do and get as many quotes as you feel is necessary. We’re here when you need us.