‘Van scam’ mattress fraud rockets due to cost of living crisis – UK consumers spend more than £40m on rip-off mattresses as rogue traders prey on cash-strapped consumers
Research from the National Bed Federation (NBF) has revealed that up to 280,000 unsuspecting consumers are buying a mattress which may not be what it claims from a doorstep or ‘back of the van’ trader – a number that has doubled in the last six months – as consumers try to cut spending under the pressure of the cost of living crisis.
The growing fraud is estimated to be costing the UK bed and mattress industry around £100m per annum. The NBF is warning that not only is buying a mattress in this way a false economy, as they are not the quality or brand of product they are labelled to be, but they may actually be unhygienic, second-hand mattresses or even unsafe due to the use of banned materials.
Often, mattresses not purchased through a reputable retailer are cheaply manufactured products that are likely to be worth less than £100 – they may contain a very basic spring unit with a polyester fibre pad or a layer of cheap foam over it, all covered in a cheap outer covering material. What’s more, some of these products are actually dangerous as they almost certainly won’t have undergone testing to ensure they meet UK mattress flammability regulations that reduce the chance of fires in homes. At worst, the mattress may contain an old, used spring unit along with dirty fillings, and the NBF has even come across cases where rogue traders have simply placed old mattresses inside brand-new covers and passed off the products as new.
The most recent consumer mattress buying surveys undertaken by the NBF, covering 1,000 people who had bought a mattress in the previous six months, showed that in October 2022, an alarming 4% reported buying their mattress from a doorstep or ‘back of the van’ trader whereas the previous survey a year earlier put the figure at just 2%.
Simon Williams from the National Bed Federation said: “Mattresses bought from the ‘back of a van’ can be extremely dangerous. It’s basically part of the shadow economy – traders flogging cheap, and often unsafe or reclaimed, mattresses door-to-door for cash. We’ve been told of rogue traders touring the country targeting neighbourhoods with so-called ‘bargain mattresses’ at prices that claim to be a fraction of their normal price. The traders are very plausible, often saying that the mattresses are from cancelled orders, surplus stock, from shops that are closing down or from show homes – they are not.
“Unfortunately, our latest research backs up the anecdotal information we’ve been receiving in recent months that this activity is on the rise as fraudsters look to prey on the most vulnerable in society who are struggling the hardest under the burden of rising costs. We’ve also heard from retailers and recycling centres that they’ve seen an increase in requests from traders wanting to take old, used mattresses off them. We fear the cases we come across are only the tip of the iceberg with many of those scammed either blissfully unaware, or too embarrassed to complain – we estimate that around 280,000 mattresses a year may be being bought this way!”
David Strover – Trading Standards Manager – Business Service Team at West Yorkshire Trading Standards, said: “We would advise consumers to consider carefully their purchasing decisions, and avoid buying goods from itinerant traders, and from the back of white vans. The selling of apparent bargain luxury beds of a high specification, from the back of a lorry is often a sign of a rip off deal, where the consumer will struggle to trace the trader concerned and never get a refund if dissatisfied with the item.”
Williams continues: “It’s vital that consumers are vigilant and look out for these cheaply manufactured products which are at best a rip-off, and at worst, dangerous. To avoid being scammed by dodgy dealers, always buy from a reputable retailer, avoid online marketplaces where traceability is next to zero, and look for the ‘NBF Approved’ label which gives consumers peace of mind that the product is safe, compliant and ‘as described’.
“With people estimated to spend one-third of their lives in bed, purchasing a comfortable, good quality mattress is an important investment and one which could make a huge difference to getting a good night’s sleep and to general wellbeing, so don’t take a risk and be tempted by apparently cheap options – if a ‘bargain’ mattress seems too good to be true, it probably is!”
Learn more about how to spot rogue traders.