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Consumer Protection for Vulnerable People: A Case Scenario

By: Mary Williams BA (hons) - Updated: 17 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Vulnerable Contract Elderly Cancellation

Anyone who has elderly or vulnerable relatives worries that they might be taken advantage of by unscrupulous sales people, trying to make a fast buck from people who might be more trusting than the average cowboy trader savvy consumer.

A Common Scam Involving Vulnerable People

It’s quite common for security firms to target the elderly, because they know that elderly people can be concerned about their safety, especially those who live alone and who may be concerned that they could fall prey to burglars or intruders. One fairly common ploy for less scrupulous security firms is to target areas with a high population of elderly residents, and keep an eye on the properties where they can identify that there are lone residents, who don’t seem to get many visitors.

They will research crime figures so that they can use them to frighten people into thinking that they are at risk from burglars...then target the most vulnerable people.

One company targeted a vulnerable elderly lady we’ll call Mrs Smith, who was in her eighties, partially sighted and deaf. She lived alone, and luckily for Mrs Smith, she had a caring family who kept a look out for her. But she was still talked into buying a totally unnecessary security system by an unscrupulous salesman.

The sales patter involved the sales man frightening Mrs Smith into believing that the crime figures in her area were high and on the rise, and that they had had a quick look around her property and identified several areas where security was lax and could leave her property vulnerable to crime.

After frightening Mrs Smith, the sales man reassured her that she would be able to drastically cut her risk of falling victim to crime by installing their system. The equipment that he sold her actually included a video entry system – remember that Mrs Smith was partially sighted! Pressurised into agreeing and signing on the dotted line, the sales man got his vulnerable target and Mrs Smith agreed to installation of everything that the sales man offered her. At a vastly inflated price. Not only this, but she was actually asked for a cash deposit up front, and the sales man went with her to the cash point to get the money. This practice used to be extremely common.

When Mrs Smith’s daughter found out what her vulnerable mother had been signed up to, she was furious and contacted the company to cancel the contract. They refused to speak to her on the grounds that she wasn’t the customer, and that Mrs Smith has willingly entered into a contract which they would be enforcing.

Legally, the law has been tightened to protect vulnerable consumers and to discourage pressure sales techniques. If anyone sells you goods or services that cost over £35 in total (you have extra legal rights according to the Cancellation of Contracts made in a Consumer's home or place of work etc. Regulations. You must have written notice of your cancellation rights, and you automatically have at least seven days to cancel the contract if you change your mind. If you don’t receive the written notice, you can’t be held to the contract even if you cancel it more than seven days later. These rules even apply to traders that you have invited into your home, although there are some exceptions – you will have to pay for anything you’ve received if you buy:

  • goods that are needed for emergency purposes
  • goods have been made to your specification
  • any perishable goods
  • goods which are consumed and can’t be returned
  • goods that have been incorporated into land
  • any goods or services relating to a funeral
In this case, Mrs Smith wasn’t given any details of cancellation rights, so her daughter informed Trading Standards, but also wrote a letter on her mother’s behalf, asking for the return of the deposit plus cancellation of the contract.

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