A scam that has reared its ugly head in the Manning for years has claimed another victim. Thomas Ellis, 82, was caught out earlier this month at a Dumaresq Island property by shysters who claimed to repair driveways in exchange for money.
The result was a loss of $44,000 and a partially completed repair job. Thomas was out in a field on a tractor when he noticed a couple of men approaching from the road.
"They called me over and straight away I told them that I didn't own the property," Thomas said.
"They told me they had been working on a job down the road and they had about half a tank (hot mix asphalt) left over."
The men didn't specify where the work was completed but Thomas did observe work nearby and presumed it was there.
What followed was a conversation with a well dressed, well spoken young man with a British or Irish accent. Thomas wanted to help out the owners of the property so he agreed to have two sections of the driveway, measuring between 12 and 14 metres each, dug out and repaired.
The original quote for the work was between $14,000 and $17,000. "I thought it was a good idea," Thomas said.
Almost two hours later, about six people arrived with a roller, steamer, bobcat and truck. Among the group was an imposing man of Pacific Islander appearance.
"He was quite bossy telling them (the group) what to do," Thomas explained. "He said they could do a special deal so I said okay and went back to the tractor to do some slashing."
Early on in the work, Thomas was called off the tractor for trivial matters.
"They kept getting me off the tractor and at one point it was just to tell me how fantastic their equipment was," Thomas said.
Back on the tractor, he noticed the group rolling the steamer and bobcat about halfway down the driveway to the top, nowhere near the area that was to be repaired.
"They said they'd work out the account after they were done for the day," Thomas added.
This is where they told Thomas it was going to cost $60,000. They began to negotiate with Thomas and claimed the entire driveway would be repaired for $50,000 and later $45,000. Thomas initially refused to pay that sum.
I told them it was ridiculous but I made the mistake and I wish I never saw them.Thomas Ellis
"I told them it was ridiculous but I made the mistake and I wish I never saw them," Thomas said.
"The alarm bells should have gone off when he was measuring it by yards and not metres and spacing it out with his feet.
"He said one space was about 32 metres, it was actually about 16 metres."
By mid-afternoon, a payment was demanded. Thomas said he would do so in person at the Commonwealth Bank. With the bank incidentally closed at the time of the demand, Thomas was called on to find a power source for an eftpos-style machine. "It was like a large box, I hadn't seen one like it before," Thomas said.
Thomas found a source inside a shed on the property and told one of the group, referred to as Tony, he had a bank card with adequate funds on it.
Thomas was told $37,000 would be transferred from his account. His first card claimed the funds were rejected but Thomas wasn't sure this was the case. The same sum was put through on a second bank card but it was supposedly rejected.
Through increments of $20,000, $10,000 and $4,000, the machine printed out a receipt that said the transactions were successful. He later discovered the $10,000 transaction was actually $20,000, taking the total amount lost to $44,000.
Throughout the time, the shyster attempted to transfer almost $70,000 but two installments of $11,000 and $13,000 were unsuccessful. Thomas believed this was the work of the Commonwealth Bank.
After this was completed, Thomas was told the equipment would be left on the edge of the driveway overnight and the group would return the next morning to complete the work.
Thomas returned to the shed and about 15 minutes later, he discovered the men and the equipment were gone. He immediately contacted his daughter Lynn about what transpired. The duo waited at the property the following day to see if the group would return. They didn't.
The man referred to as Tony later exchanged several conversations with Lynn and Thomas about at least some of the money being returned. He agreed to transfer several thousands back. Thomas is still waiting.
The incident was reported to his bank, which is looking into tracing the money. He was saving the money to purchase a tractor.
Thomas said about 30 per cent of the job was completed, but one look at the work would be calling that generous. The shoddy work looked like someone had used the equipment for the first time. Thomas was convinced this was the case.
"When I watched them, all they did was do u-turns on the bobcat, I thought it's a bloody terrible job if you're a tradesman," he said. "I don't think he knew how to drive the bobcat."
Thomas wanted the asphalt to be about two and a half (one inch) thick. The result suggested it wasn't even one quarter of this. Some parts of the driveway now bear scorch marks while clumps of grass protrude out of the ground. Thomas wants his story to be a warning to others.
He's already fronted his beloved Lions Club about the incident and called on them to spread the word. On reflection, Thomas conceded shysters continue to target elderly people with long driveways in secluded areas.
"I would say to someone don't get these 'fly-by-night' people to do anything, make sure it's someone you trust," Thomas said. "People have to be aware that they're (shysters) out to catch you."
He is still coming to terms with his identification of the group as shysters rather than lousy tradesmen.
"I might be too trusting but I treat people equally," Thomas said.
I might be too trusting but I treat people equally.Thomas Ellis
With his busy life on the land, Thomas said he wasn't aware of the scam's prevalence.
"I'd rather have the radio on and listen to the cricket than the news," he smiled.
Manning Great Lakes Police District is aware of the incident and has urged residents to be cautious.
Anyone who can identify those involved in the scheme or was a victim, contact Taree Police Station on 6552 0399 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.