Cowboy ratings companies are back in town and they have absolutely no scruples. I'll give you an old example first. When twin companies Oldfields and Strattons, the biggest of the baddies, were at their height in the 1990s, they duped thousands of small businesses for about £250 a pop and it took Trading Standards six years to round them up and close them down. But the TSOs were unable to prevent replacement companies springing up, with staff ringing previous victims and offering to put things right for them. These cons were real pros.

There is now a 'new' set of cowboys in operation with a new chat-up line. Ken Batty, my trusted chartered surveyor and rating contact in Preston, tells me: "They are now playing a new tactic to frighten people by saying they have noticed that no appeal has been made where it is clearly known that there is an agent acting. We have had about 50% of our clients contacted saying that we have failed to put in an appeal." Some have also suggested that he has gone out of business.

He points out that there is a right time to submit appeals. "We are waiting, like most genuine practitioners, until the appropriate time and with the appropriate evidence because it is the clients who come first, not the fees but these people are interested in nothing else."

Most disturbingly, these rip-off merchants are saying there is a deadline on the 2010 list to appeal. There is not. You have until March 2015 to appeal.

Simple rule: don't give the business to cold callers, or call centres. Pick a specialist by contacting the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, or the Institution of Revenues Rating & Valuation or the Rating Surveyors Association for a list of local surveyors.