08 Jan How to spot a scammer or door-to-door conman

Our homes are our sanctuary, where we are safe and can relax. Or they’re supposed to be. Unfortunately, though, even in our homes, we can often fall victim to a door-to-door scammer or conman. In recent times, there were 17,264 reports of doorstep crime, with 65% of the victims being aged 75 and over. What’s more, it’s also been reported that the median value lost from doorstep crime was £1750, according to research by Citizens Advice

Trading Standards UK also reported that on average, there are around 17,000 reports relating to doorstep crime made in England and Wales each year. However, due to low reporting rates, it’s actually estimated that this figure represents only around 10 to 20% of incidents that actually take place, with the figure looking more like 85,000 to 170,000. They also note that it’s common for victims of doorstep crime to be older or vulnerable adults.

With that in mind, here are a number of things we can do to help keep our homes and ourselves safe from door-to-door fraudsters and scammers.

Door-to-door scams

Firstly, let’s go through the common types of door-to-door scams:

Bogus officials

These scammers take the guise of established companies like your utility company to gain entry into your home. They could even pose as the police or council, dressed in convincing uniforms and carrying badges. Often, their IDs are fake and they just want to get into your house to either swindle or trick you into divulging personal information they can pass on or use. 

What can you do?

Luckily, many utility companies today have a password scheme to make it easier for you to suss if someone is genuine or not. If they can’t provide the password or claim to have forgotten it, you’ll know to immediately call the company to check. And if you haven’t got a password set up, always ask for proof of ID and call the company to check if that person works for them and has been scheduled to visit you that day. 

Also, watch out for scammers claiming you have a gas leak and that they need to urgently get into your property. In genuine circumstances, people are often accompanied by the police and/or fire department, so again, check credentials. 

Fake charity collectors

Another popular door-to-door scams is people knocking on your door pretending to be charity collectors. Many people can get easily fooled because of the goodness of their hearts, especially when it comes to the older generation or pensioners. They may ask for clothes, money, household items or any donations to help their ‘charity’. 

What can you do?

All official and legitimate charities have unique charity numbers that can be checked on the government’s Charity Commission website. If they are legitimate, they will not mind at all if you check their charity out online first. You should also contact the charity itself to check if the person at your door has been assigned collection duties. And of course, don’t let politeness blind your senses; if it doesn’t feel right or you don’t wish to donate, you can politely refuse.

Rogue traders

You may get cold-callers who turn up at your door wanting to offer a service that you don’t really need. They’ll try to charm and persuade you to hire them because they have noticed something wrong with your property or something that needs improving. The trouble is they’ll often offer a quick fix for cash at an inflated price.  

What can you do?

Warning signs for rogue traders who simply want to con you into work for inflated prices are offering to do the work quickly and taking payment in cash. Reputable tradesmen should have marked vehicles and invoices, be able to take card payments, and often aren’t knocking on people’s doors to get custom. 

If someone turns up at your door eager to do work, ask for their company’s name and look out for their vehicle. You’ll know things are suspicious if they have parked their vehicle hidden away or if they are talking too much. Calmly ask them if they can wait a minute before you check their company out online. The more questions you ask, the more they’ll get worried and expose themselves. Often they will make an excuse and depart in a hurry. 

Fake consumer surveys

You may get some scammers asking you to fill out a survey, but it’s just a ruse to get personal details from you that they will either pass on to their scam and fraud links or use themselves. They may even use this time to try and find out more about your property or sell products or services to you.

What can you do?

Whatever the survey, you can ask any questions first to find out more about the company or purpose, like where is your data going, why do they need it? Check with the organisation or company they’re claiming to represent. Chances are, it’s not legitimate. Whilst we all want to be polite, if somebody is taking too much of your time, you can politely say you’re not interested and goodbye. 

Hard luck stories

This term describes scammers who take advantage of people’s kindness and goodwill by knocking on claiming an emergency. They may ask to use your phone or need some cash. They’ll have a well-thought-out story to convince you they’re in desperate need, all whilst planning to swindle you – from car keys to loose change or jewellery.

What can you do?

These are one of the hardest scams to detect, as these are people claiming to be in need rather than from a company or charity, where you can check these things. All you can do is be reasonable and calm to find out exactly what this person needs and what their story is. Ask questions to see if there’s anything not adding up or to see if they expose themselves or trip up. They may give you a wrong name the second time, for instance.

As soon as you suspect anything, kindly say you don’t store any money in the house and say goodbye. Don’t let them in if you are on your own or you sense danger. If they are genuine, they should understand. If they keep demanding or get aggressive, close the door and try to contact neighbours, relatives and friends. It’s also a good thing to be more in touch with your neighbours to watch out for scams like these, as you can find out if the same scammers are targeting your area, and often they may have a different story for others.

The pre-payment meter scam

This involves someone turning up at your door claiming to be a representative of an energy company to offer you something like a discount. They use cloned keys to top up your meters (this only works on meters before April 2011), however, these top-ups are illegal and you will still owe money to your energy supplier. 

What can you do?

Be advised that energy companies never make door-to-door sales and again, you should always contact the companies they claim to represent to check if they have sent anyone to your property to carry out anything. You should also only make top-ups from official Payzone and Paypoint outlets.

How can you protect yourself from doorstep fraud?

There are some key tips you can follow to help protect you and your families from doorstep fraud or scams.

What to do if you’ve been a victim of a door-to-door scam?

Like we mentioned in the findings on doorstep crime, it’s estimated that the actual figures on door-to-door scams and crime are a lot higher due to under-reporting. This is believed to be because of victims of scams feeling embarrassed or not being sure where to report them.

If you have been a victim of any scam or fraud, you can report the incident to Action Fraud. They are the UK’s National Fraud reporting centre that investigates and monitors cases of fraud, scams and cons. 

Other places you can report to or get advice from are:

Protecting yourself at home all starts with good security. And when it comes to your castle, you should look after your drawbridge. A driveway gate can not only add a robust level of security to your home, but it can also play a huge part in keeping door-to-door scammers away from your home with deterring surveillance. For more information on gate security and access control, contact The Expert Gate Company today.