How to spot a 'cowboy' driveway company

Its not as easy as you think!

Back in the early years cowboy driveway companies were able to spotted from a mile off.  A simple knock at the door asking if you wanted some "spare tarmac", or our favourite line "we're working in the area and...".

However, you could always follow these simple rules:

  • Do they have a land line number?
  • Do they have professional work wear?
  • Do they have a sign written vehicle?
  • Are they a LTD company?
  • Do they have a UK Address?
  • Do they accept credit cards?

If you answered NO to at least 3 of the above, then it "was" pretty obvious they are going to be somewhat "dodgy".  No company back in the day would spend money on creating a fake company in order to get you to hand over the cash.

Speaking from personal experience, I can honestly say that cowboys (and sometimes cowgirls) do manage to pull the wool over your eyes, and this is why the above rules can no longer be followed in order to spot a 'dodgy firm'.

  • Do they have a land line number?

    • Registering with Skype or another VOIP service will give you a land line number.  The guys at Tidy Web Design (the people who designed this site) use Skype for all their calls, its a virtual number that rings on a PC, yet its a Nottinghamshire based exchange number.  Cost - under a tenner a month! (Tidy Web Design are fine though, we've used them for years!)
       
    • Virtual offices - This seems to be the favourite one.  Choose any location in the world, any town, and get a number answered almost immediately by a "virtual" employee.  They are being paid to act as that company, and will fool 99% of us - the first time it rings! Cost:  10 - 20 per month
       
  • Do they have professional work wear?

    • Back in the early 1990's the only way you could get any work wear printed was through embroidery, or screen printing.  Both at that time were expensive, and required large runs, certainly not suitable for your average driveway scam company.  Nowadays you can get a polo shirt and take it to a street t-shirt printer, who will print on your company name for less than a fiver!  Or you can use an online company and order letters for as little as 35p! (www.teetransfers.co.uk) and iron them on yourself.  Instantly if you open the door to somebody in work wear, the impression is still the same "wow, they must be good, they have their own work wear".
       
  • Do they have a sign written van?

    • As per the previous question, back in the day "sign writing" was exactly this - painting a vehicle with a strong solvent based paint.  This was not only expensive, but also extremely permanent - do driveway firm would endure the cost of this and would therefore just turn up in a blank van.  However, with the introduction of digital plotters - AND the ability to order a plotter directly from eBay for less than 300.00, it has enabled bedroom signage companies to sell vinyl signs for less than 20.00.  Simple lettering ready to apply will cost half that, and can be removed easily once the "deed" has been done.
       
  • Are they a LTD company?

    • Back in the day when LTD companies were seen as a prestigious business, no scam artist would setup a ltd company (with then the "high" costs) just to rip you off!  However, you can now register a LTD company online for less than 150.00 (if you know where to look).  Plus, who these days they are a LTD company?
       
  • Do they have a UK address?

    • They very well might do... but its work checking it out if your going to spending some serious hours wages with them.  A company I personally dealt with had a UK address, in fact it was a well known office space address.  It wasn't until we encountered problems with them did we go there and realise... they were never actually there...and just used that address.  So before signing / agreeing any form of driveway.. have a little drive to where they are saying they are based.
    • Also as above, if they are a LTD company.. see where their registered office is using companies house web check system.  You'd be surprised at who they really are.
    • Google is your friend! - no really it is!  Once you have the address... Google it, Google the post code, the first line, then Google maps it!  3D street view is extremely ideal for spotting the "travellers"!
       
  • Do they accept credit cards?

    • We all know that credit cards offer a much better protection than the standard cheque / cash approach.  However, obtaining a credit card processing account is actually much easier than you think!  For 20.00 per month, you can upgrade your standard "PayPal" account into a merchant account and start receiving credit card payments immediately.

 

So, what checks can I do to make sure I don't get scammed!

After being cheated out of several thousand pounds myself i can only offer the advice that has been passed to me, and looking back - what i should have done.  I am not going to go into how i was scammed, but currently, its going through the courts.

I would highly recommend visiting the company your going to be dealing with at "their" premises.  If they work from home - thats fine, most of us do these days.  Plus a driveway company will spend very limited time at an actual office... so going round to their house/premises is a must.

Obtain a written quotation with what's included, and what is NOT included.  Getting this piece of paper whether typed, or hand written is a god send in the eyes of the law.  It can be the difference between a "job" and a "really good job".

Cooling off period

Did you know that once you agree a driveway to be laid, you "should" get at least 7 days to cancel the work? IN WRITING!  This is essential for any checks you may wish to do on the company.

Google is your friend

Working with Tidy Web Design (our web design company) I can honestly say that Google is your friend.  Google indexes so many web pages and can be used to spot a cowboy firm extremely easily.  When i was "scammed", i searched and searched over many days anything i could find that would give me the upper hand. - what did i find out?  Well.. i found the planning permission application for the company director's vehicles, i found the registered companies address... which was then searched on to find a another company trading from the same address.  Along with lots more information, Google maps street view proved to be the killer...  a plot of land with several caravans, horse and carts, all at 1 address.

Had i done this before i'd paid, then I would have been much happier.  However  it wasn't until the sinking feeling kicks in that you become obsessive with finding anything out - so maybe it was unavoidable?

Please wait for our next article on how to try and resolve any bad driveway workmanship.

How to Deal with Bad Job and take the matter further!

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