Warning over doorstep sellers flogging items that can kill

Old mattress leaning up against wall on street.

The Local Government Association has issued a warning about scam traders knocking on doors around the country and selling something we've not seen before from dodgy doorstep traders: mattresses that could kill.

Some are said to knock on the story with a fanciful tale about a local hotel which accidentally ordered too many mattresses, and instead of sending them back for a full refund decided the best approach was to knock on doors and sell them at a '70% discount'. Others describe the mattresses simply as 'clearance stock'.

The sellers are often well presented, and issue paperwork with contact details to make them seem legitimate. However, these details are false, so consumers will not be able to contact anyone for a refund.

The risks

Apparently they come from a couple of sources - both of which make them unsafe to use. Rather unpleasantly, some are picking up dirty old mattresses that have been thrown away. They wrap them to obscure the state of them, and then knock on doors. There's no telling what kinds of horrors lie within - including bed bugs.

The second source is overseas, because dodgy traders are importing them without the proper safety certificates. It means there's no telling where they have come from, or what standards they have been made to, and whether they, for example, pose a fire risk. Buyers are duped by the fact that the traders will rewrap the mattresses, often using branded wrapping from reputable firms, so they don't suspect the real source.

There have been dodgy mattress traders revealed in Devon and Somerset (where the number of people ripped off by the scammers has increased tenfold between January and August), Dorset, Wiltshire, Derby, Norfolk and Enfield.

Simon Blackburn, the chairman of the LGA's safer and stronger communities board, said: "Some councils have reported a recent surge in mattress scam complaints but many victims won't realise they have been conned and could be sleeping on a potential death trap. These unscrupulous traders have no interest in the safety of the products they sell and some have now taken to selling mattresses which could create a fireball in people's homes if they catch light."

"These mattresses may be described as memory foam but are carefully wrapped so you have no idea what you are buying. They generally fail fire safety tests and are often worn-out, dirty and unhygienic items destined for the tip."

"Anyone offered a cheap mattress on their doorstep should not buy one."

What can you do?

The general rule of never buying anything on the doorstep still stands. There's always a risk the seller is a rogue trader, but even if they are legitimate, you have no idea whether what they are selling constitutes a good deal or not.

Many of these items are also sold at discounts that seem too good to be true. There's a very good reason for that: they're a complete fiction, and the item in question was never worth what they are claiming.

If you are approached by one of these rogue traders, Blackburn says it's important to call Citizens Advice on 03454 04 05 06, who will pass on your information to trading standards or the police.

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