This week International Fraud Awareness Week (November 15 – 21) gets underway and we’re warning shoppers about ‘COVID cons’ – rogue traders selling beds online or from the back of a van.

This strong message comes amid rising concern about the number of COVID-related rip-offs with more and more concerning stories about fraudsters taking advantage of peoples’ heightened concerns and anxieties around the pandemic.

With so many people reluctant to leave their homes to go shopping, it has left the way open for rogue traders to take advantage of the situation both online – and through sales from the back of a van.

While the vast majority of UK bed manufacturers produce safe, compliant and ‘as described’ products, there are some dodgy dealers who try to pass off inferior products as ‘luxury’ items, or worse – unsafe and unhygienic mattresses.

From fake flammability labels to used, dirty mattresses stuffed into a new cover, rogue traders will stop at nothing to make a quick buck. A popular trick by a ‘back of a van’ trader is to claim they have an unsold mattress, from a showhouse or unsold delivery, that they will sell for a fraction of the usual price.

Complaints picked up by us on social media over the past two months – and typical of the many scams operating – include:

  • Nik who agreed to buy a mattress for £250 from a van driver who called at the house – and was even followed to an ATM machine to get the cash. The seller claimed to come from Newport but has been uncontactable since Nik realised it was a sub-standard mattress and tried to get a refund.
  • Alex from Dorset who said two people posing as contractors for a well-known hotel chain (even wearing company lanyards) called at the house with two wrapped mattresses (complete with RRP labels) in the back of a white Mercedes van. A neighbour later said they’d approached him too.
  • Robert from Bournemouth who was doorstepped by a man who asked if he wanted to buy a mattress. He declined as his 80-year-old parents had been caught out by the same scam two years earlier.

The general advice is if an offer is too good to be true – it usually is. A reputable mattress manufacturer would never try to sell door-to-door or from the back of a van, so we’d always advise people not to buy a mattress this way.

When it comes to buying online there are many advantages such as convenience and speed, but there are some things you should be wary of.

Most alarming is the increasing number of rogue traders offering what appear to be heavily discounted mattresses – often claiming to use high spring counts and deep layers of filling when in fact, they are manufactured with cheaper materials without undergoing any necessary testing.

At worst, these products may be unsafe or unhygienic, and at best, they are probably only just worth what you pay for them – so it’s wise to steer clear of these so-called ‘deals’.

Top tips for avoiding the scammers:

  • Never buy from the back of a van. You have no way of telling what you are buying is what the person claims.
  • Always look for the NBF Approved label – all NBF members are independently audited to ensure they meet all the requirements for hygiene, safety (including flammability) and trade descriptions. The NBF also carries out random testing of member products to ensure compliance.
  • Be wary of discounts offering 70% to 80% off recommended sales price, especially if there are RRP’s printed on to the mattress label.
  • If buying online, check the company has a registered office, factory or showroom address. Also check whether it has a UK dialling code, 0800 or 0345 phone number. Be cautious if it’s a mobile number or starts with 0203 (these may be perfectly legitimate numbers, but it’s advisable to carry out other checks as well).
  • Check the website has a privacy policy and T&Cs – and check their returns policy.
  • Don’t rely on reviews posted on their own site – look for independent reviews.

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