For more than two decades, Matt Allwright has been championing the rights of consumers on BBC1’s Watchdog.
From rogue traders to holiday scams, Matt has tackled them all.
And now, as figures show that scams have soared by 66% this year as criminals cash in on the coronavirus lockdown, Matt, 50, has a new Watchdog consumer book out.
Here Christine Smith picks out 15 of his top tips to make sure you get the best possible deals, save money – and avoid potential scams…
Don’t accept out-of-the blue offers
Out of the blue is not for you. If a deal comes to you without you soliciting it, you don’t want it.
It’s normally in the form of an email and often happens when you are looking at something.
For example an investment in wine where, guess what, somebody out there has just the deal where you can invest in France and it makes four times the value.
Make your own enquiries through trusted sources. Don’t let someone else come along and tell you what you need.
Foil the conveyancing fraudsters
Never complete a property payment without going back to the solicitor and checking their bank details.
Tens of thousands of pounds go astray in conveyancing fraud, where thieves intercept the buyer and the solicitor. They do this by calling from a number/email that pretends to be your solicitor and saying: “We have changed our bank details.”
Phone your solicitor on the first number you used for them and check it.
Get benefits of packaged bank account
You can save yourself hundreds of pounds by adding together what you pay for breakdown recovery and mobile phone and travel insurance, and then asking yourself if you can’t do cheaper with a packaged bank account.
With that type of account, you pay a fee, but what they offer is good value and you can save yourself hundreds.
Only buy Christmas puddings in January
They last two years, so why buy one in December?
You will be able to get a good discount because they are not going to keep them on the shelves and they will be at cut price in January.
There is so much alcohol and sugar in a pudding, it will easily last till next Christmas.
Start using Google Reverse Image Search
Not everyone knows that you can put a picture into Google instead of search words.
But if you are dating or booking accommodation online, Reverse Image Search is a great tool to cut the chances of getting fooled. The service finds where else the photo has been used online.
So if you find the photo of your potential date on 12 other sites, they may not be who say they are.
Hoteliers can use the same trick with room pics.
How to avoid buying a sofa that won’t last
If you are buying a sofa, lift one of the legs at the front off the floor by six inches. Look across to the other leg and it should be roughly the same height.
If it isn’t, the sofa has too much flex and is not going to last. It’s got to be strong enough to take the weight and stiff enough the other leg comes up too.
Be a supermarket sticker stalker
Go to your local supermarkets and find out when they put price-reduction stickers on their produce.
You’ll soon discover it’s usually at the same time every day and it will often happen after lunch and sometimes in the evening, too. It is also often done just before a bank holiday and at the end of most weekends.
It’s an excellent way to get discounts on the hoof for stuff that can be stored in the freezer.
Do a virtual switch on your utility bills
Better than switching your phone, energy, insurance or utility supplier is a “virtual switch”.
Go and get the other quotes then go back to your supplier and say “I’m leaving”. They will put you through to the retention department and you can then get them to match what you have been offered. It means you get the savings of the switch without the pain of actually moving. It works with everything and you should be doing it every year.
Don’t fall for brick protection scams
Bricks absorb water. Anyone who tries to sell you a product (damp proofing) that stops it happening is probably wasting your time and possibly trying to scam you.
Anything painted on the surface of your bricks won’t lower your energy bills and it won’t protect your bricks.
Don’t be afraid to haggle
Nothing is such a good deal you can’t argue for a better price, in a polite way. You want to take the main price and haggle about the extras.
Say you are buying a car and need a roof rack – for that you can go somewhere else.
Always use proper online payments
When purchasing online, never use a means of paying other than the one they provide. If the seller is suggesting you go outside of that, it could be trouble.
For example, on eBay, PayPal is the method they use and it has all sorts of protection attached to it. If your seller says “We don’t have to go through eBay, I would rather avoid fees”, it would unwise to go along with that. If you step outside the accepted means you are not covered if things go wrong.
Don’t buy tickets from secondary sellers
Buying tickets direct for events such as concerts by stars like Adele, inset, is the way to go.
Do NOT use secondary sellers, who are a massive letdown. From stories I have done about these companies you will turn up, your ticket won’t work and you will have been plain scammed.
Covid has meant a lot of concerts being cancelled or postponed and they are not giving the money back. If you go direct, you will stand a lot better chance.
Avoid doorstepping tradespeople
Legitimate tree surgeons don’t call door to door. Some do leaflet, but ask yourself why – they should be busy.
The same goes for driveway guys. Also frozen fish. Before you know it, you have a freezer full of fish and you don’t discover it has gone off until it thaws. You are laying yourself open to a scam.
Take care with washing machines and dryers
If you are buying a separate washing machine and tumble dryer, make sure both load sizes match because otherwise you are going to end up with piles of washing on the side.
It will avoid stinky clothes!
And remember your eraser
And finally, if you are going to complain, always remember ERASER
By that, I mean be:
Empathetic – every customer operator is a person just like you.
Reasonable – be willing to listen to reason and not closed to compromise.
Assertive – speak in clear tones, making sure you are understood.
Supported – even if you feel like it, you are not alone and there are companies/ombudsmen such as the Citizens Advice that can help.
Evidenced – from your first call, make it clear that you have got your evidence stacked up.
Relentless – never give up. You will take the gold.
Watchdog: The Consumer Survival Guide by Matt Allwright, £16.99, is out now.