Timely reminder for consumers after SA fencer spent $21k in client deposits

The unlicensed tradie took thousands of dollars in deposits for “work that was never started”.

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The fencer, Christopher Richard John O’Toole, spent money from his business account – including deposits from five consumers – on private school fees, gambling and recreational activities, including $7,000 spent at an adult entertainment venue.

According to South Australia’s Consumer and Business Services, O’Toole accepted over $21,000 worth of consumer deposits over an eight-month period in 2021.

At the time, neither O’Toole or his business, Adelaide Fence Corp, were licensed to carry out fencing work.

While O’Toole’s recreational transactions were occurring, the consumer watchdog stated that “consumers were either waiting for work that would never start, or refunds that would never arrive”.

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Following the discovery of the breaches, Consumer and Business Services took action against Adelaide Fence Corp. The Elizabeth Magistrates Court found O’Toole to have breached South Australia’s building work contractor laws and the Australian Consumer Law.

O’Toole, who told the court he had personal debts totally over $145,000, was ordered to serve 300 hours of community service and pay $7,500 compensation to consumers.

Fraser Stroud, acting commissioner for consumer affairs, warned customers that this breach “is a timely reminder of the importance of checking to see whether a business is licensed to do the work they’re being hired for”.

“The public register is available on the CBS website to help consumers do their homework to ensure that a business or a tradie holds an appropriate licence,” said Stroud.

Last month, the consumer protection agency issued a statewide warning about scammers who masquerade as tradies on digital marketplaces after three South Australians were scammed out of nearly $60,000.

In April, South Australia commenced a large-scale review of its building regulations to better protect consumers from dodgy operators, in what the state described as the largest review of construction legislation in 20 years.

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