The practice blog

Caveat Emptor: Building works and the £25,000 scam Barclays did not report

scam photo from the Guardian
scam photo from the Guardian

So I read over the weekend’s cheering Mother’s Day papers the chilling story of an ordinary professional couple whose life savings of £25,000 had been stolen online in a banking transaction scam.

The government, the media, the banks, the police, God – no one will protect you. Only you can protect yourself. It’s back to the usual back-up line of Caveat Emptor.

Caveat Emptor:

the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made.
This means in plain English: those who will get ripped off will get ripped off and it’s your own fault.

Building works are open to scams

Building works cost so much, usually at least four figures for the smallest silliest tasks, and that is why it is open to scams. Everybody has been ripped off, me included, especially on holiday when one’s guard is down. But this is not a case of being ripped off by a cabbie or a peddler of the wrong sandals that are non-returnable and non-refundable.


The couple received an invoice from the contractor for their rear extension. But they received another invoice identical to the first invoice saying the bank account details have changed. The couple paid as per the second invoice. Unbeknown to all, including the building contractor, the contractor had been hacked. The criminals had been tracking their every move.

The banks did nothing about it even though the account had been opened, cleaned out and shut very quickly, They must be able to trace the fraudster’s account. How can they not? It’s a question of resources. They said they will cooperate with the cops but the cops won’t do a thing about it as there are too many scams and of a much bigger scale.


like to scam individuals because they are vulnerable. A big company is hard to scam because they are insured to the eyeballs and nothing can touch them.

How you can protect yourself:

– asking for the contractor’s account and sort code yourself and writing it down.

– Pay the money in by cheque. Cheques can be stopped. There are turning points in a cheque’s lifetime because things moved at a slower space in the old days.

– Pay a small amount first, just to make sure it gets in OK, such as a pound.

– Pay only small installments. If the builder asks for 40% deposit upfront, something is wrong. Do not go for it. £25,000 was a huge deposit or installment for a rear extension. Unless it is a huge contractor, in which case, they won’t even ask for a deposit. They work a month for nothing until valuation time, they invoice and you pay that valuation.

– Sign a contract and make sure someone is there like your project manager or architect or designer to administer the contract. It needs to makes sense by protecting all parties.

– The old ways are the best. In this digital age, the opportunities are endless for a white collar criminal. But they still cannot physically get to your desk, your mind or your hands. You would have to be in a market stall for that kind of rip off to take place.