Tarmac scam

The tarmac scam is a confidence trick in which criminals sell fake or shoddy tarmac (asphalt) and drivewayresurfacing. It is particularly common in Europe but practiced worldwide.[1][2] Other names include tarmacking, the asphalt scam, driveway fraud or similar variants. Non-English names include “Truffa dell’asfalto” (Italian), “Teerkolonne” (German) and “les faux bitumeurs” (French).[3][4][5]

Confidence trick
Genuine road resurfacing, Australia

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A conman typically goes door-to-door, claiming to be a builder working on a contract who has some leftover tarmac, and offering to pave a driveway at a low cost.[2][6]

The paving is in fact often simply gravel chippings covered with engine oil,[2] or not the right depth and type of materials to form a lasting road surface.[3] Milk has been used to make a fake sealant.[7][8]

The conmen may target elderly, vulnerable residents,[9][10][11] and claim to be official contractors working on roadworks to add credibility.[12] Reported escalation has included increasing the cost, claiming that the job has required more material than expected, and making threats.[13][14][15]

Irish crime reporter Eamon Dillon, an expert on the gangs involved, interviewed a builder who worked with a gang who said that they had custom-built lorries which could never do a proper job: “a proper tarring lorry will have sixty jets, our tar lorries have eight”.[3] In another case, the equipment was rented in Romania and then never returned.[1] Another gang used a lorry with Highways Agency branding.[13]

Rathkeale, County Limerick, Ireland, the base of many tarmac scam gangs

Tarmac fraud is particularly associated with the Rathkeale Rovers and other gangs from the Irish traveller community.[16][17][1][18] The organiser of the scheme may lead a gang of low-paid workers,[3] or human trafficking victims.[19][20][8] Cases have been reported since the 1980s.[9][21][22][23]

The relative mundanity of tarmacking may have made it a low priority for law enforcement.[2][8] Dillon has estimated that the scheme may earn up to $140m a year[2] and that in 2010 there were 20 gangs active in Italy alone, earning €2 million a week.[24]

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