Carpet man admits a ‘bait and switch’ scam

Exeter Magistrates' Court

Exeter Magistrates' Court - Credit: Archant

A carpet cleaner, who offered rock-bottom prices to homeowners – including a vulnerable dementia sufferer – before hiking up his charges by up to 5,400 per cent, has pleaded guilty to seven offences.

Mark Dudley, of Ferndown, Dorset, targeted residents in Sidford and Ottery St Mary, as well as others in Devon, Cornwall and Gloucestershire in 2013 and 2014.

He faced four charges under the Fraud Act and three under Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations related to either dishonestly failing to disclose a consumer’s right to cancel, or inviting them to purchase the services at one price before substituting a different, vastly higher price – a practice known as ‘bait and switch’.

He changed his pleas to guilty on Wednesday, just before a three-day trial was due to start at Exeter Magistrates’ Court.

The court heard that he travelled around the country, operating a carpet cleaning business, and traded as MD Cleaning Services Limited, Compact Cleaning Services and Dudley Cleaning Services from addresses in Dorset.

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Consumers were telephoned out of the blue with an offer to clean their carpets at a very low price of £20.

But when Dudley came to call, the offered price was not available and, instead, far higher prices of up to £1,100 were charged.

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In one case, Dudley charged an elderly lady, who had dementia, around £400, even though her carpets had been cleaned the previous day by another trader.

The consumers were not adequately told of their rights to a ‘cooling-off’ period during which they could cancel the contract.

In addition, the court heard that the work was not professionally done, with Dudley working around items of furniture instead of moving them.

Trading standards is cracking down on such scams.

County councillor Roger Croad said: “This trader was more concerned with extracting as much money as he could out of his victims than actually cleaning their carpets.

“I’m pleased that, thanks to the consumers being prepared to give evidence, we’ve been able to bring him to justice.”

The court ordered Dudley to remain on bail, report to the probation service and return to court on December 15 for sentencing.

Anyone who thinks they have been a victim of a scam can report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

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