Doorstep scammers knock on your door with a story of some kind, designed to trick you out of money or gain access to your home. They have a variety of tricks and can be very persistent and persuasive.
On this page you can find details about dealing with doorstep scams.
1. What is a doorstep scam?
2. How big is the problem?
3. Common doorstep scams
4. Taking action against doorstep scams
5. Top tips for employing a trader
6. What to do if you're caught out by a doorstep scam
What is a doorstep scam?
A doorstep scam (or doorstep fraud) involves someone coming to your home and knocking on the door, with the aim of tricking you or your relative out of money. There are lots of honest doorstep sellers but there is a fine line between a scammer and an unscrupulous trader.
Scammers usually have the gift of the gab and will try to smooth talk you with a convincing story. Or they might be pushy and intimidating trying to get you to sign a contract or buy something you don’t want. Their main aim is to trick you out of money or gain access to your home to steal valuables. Either way, the key is not to let them in and report them as soon as possible. Follow our tips to prevent doorstep scams.
How big is the problem?
Doorstep scams account for around 5% of all scams, according to recent research by Citizens Advice. Scammers often target older people for doorstep scams, they are more likely to be at home all day and scammers might find it easier to intimidate them. In fact, 85% of victims of doorstep scams are aged 65 and over according to National Trading Standards.
Common doorstep scams
- The scam: a trader will come to your home and say that you need work done. This might be new paving, a new driveway but a common favourite is to say that you have a hole in your roof or your guttering is coming down - something that you can’t easily check yourself. They’ll say that it’s really urgent and if you don’t have it fixed, your house will fall down, the roof will leak or it will end up costing you lots of money. They’ll put pressure on you to have the work done now.
- The reality: it’s highly likely that they’ve made up the problem. They might pretend to fix it, or do a shoddy job. They’ll then charge you an extortionate amount for the ‘work’.
Hard luck stories
- The scam: a stranger (who might seem perfectly nice and friendly) will turn up on your doorstep pretending that:
- they need to use the phone because, for example, their car has broken down, their pregnant girlfriend is ill;
- they need a glass of water;
- they’ve lost their dog in your garden.
- The reality: they’ll say anything to make you feel sorry for them and will take advantage of your good nature to help them. While you fetch the water or go to get the phone, they might pocket your valuables. Or they might work in pairs – while one distracts you looking for the ‘dog’ in the back garden, the other will gain access to your home.
- The scam: an official looking person with a uniform and ID badge, turns up on your doorstep. They might say they are there to read the gas meter or conduct a survey for the local council.
- The reality: their ID could be fake. They want to get into your home, or trick you into divulging personal information that can be used for ID fraud.
Taking action against doorstep scams
Follow our advice to protect yourself or a relative from doorstep scams.
- Be on your guard: always be suspicious of anyone turning up at the door uninvited – regardless of their story.
- Put up a sign: put a sign up in the window near your front door saying that uninvited callers are not welcome.
- Keep your home secure: don’t let anyone into your home. Keep your doors locked with the chain on. Ask to see callers’ ID cards and call the company to see if they are genuine. To be safe, look up the company number yourself rather than trust the number on their ID card. If you feel uncomfortable, or have any doubts, don’t let them in. It’s your home. Tell them you are not interested or that now is ‘not convenient’ and ask them to come back at a different time (when you can have a friend or relative with you).
- Set up a utilities password: you can set up a password with your gas and electricity providers so that you can be sure callers (such as meter readers) are genuine. Call your utility company to arrange this. To activate the service they might need to put you on their Priority Services Register. This gives access to extra services if you are of pensionable age, are registered disabled, have a hearing or visual impairment, or have long-term ill health.
- Nominate a neighbour: if you have a relative or friend who lives close by, arrange to call on them before letting anyone into your house. If you don’t know anyone nearby, then contact your local Neighbourhood Watch Scheme or Safer Neighbourhood Police team Scheme to find out if they can help.
- Take a photo: if you’re suspicious, ask the caller if you can take their photo on your mobile phone. If they are genuine, they probably won’t mind.
- Call the police: if a caller is really persistent and refuses to leave, you can call 999. If you are suspicious, but not in immediate danger, call 101 – the police non-emergency number.
Tops tips for employing a trader
Remember that a genuine trader is highly unlikely to knock on your door asking for work. Stay in control of the situation by approaching traders yourself when you know work is needed. Follow these simple rules - or let your relative know about them.
- Where possible, choose a trader who has been recommended by family or friends.
- Never hire a trader that comes to the door looking for work.
- Use approval schemes, such as Which? Trusted Trader, Buy with Confidence or the Trading Standards Codes Approval Scheme to find approved traders in your area.
- Get quotes from at least three traders to compare prices.
- Ask for the quote in writing to ensure that the price doesn’t go up afterwards.
- Don’t pay until the job is finished.
What to do if you're caught out by a doorstep scam?
If you or your relative is caught out by a doorstep scam, there are several steps you or they can take.
- Report the incident to Action Fraud.
- Alert your local police or Neighbourhood watch so that they can warn other residents that the fraudster is in the area.
- Report dodgy salespeople to Citizens Advice (who can pass complaints to your local Trading Standards authority) if you believe they have sold you faulty, inferior or overpriced products or services.
- If you buy something as a result of an unsolicited visit to your home you have a legal right to cancel – but be warned that you might not be able to track down a scammer.
- If you’ve paid by card or cheque, contact your bank to see what they can do. They should be able to offer advice on stopping the payment and keeping your bank account safe.
- Phone scams, Postal scams, Online scams: read about other types of scam and how to help you or your relative avoid being caught out.
- Which? Trusted Trader: make sure you choose a trusted trader if you need any jobs done around the home.
- Which? Consumer Rights: find out more about your rights if you buy something as a result of an unsolicited visit to your home.
Campaign to safeguard us from scams
Fraud is now at record levels, with more than five million scams costing Brits a mind-boggling £9bn each year. While there are sensible steps we can all take to protect ourselves and older relatives and friends, an unfair burden has been placed on the public. Which? is urging the government to take the lead and ensure companies safeguard us all from scams. Sign up to the campaign here.
Page first published: July 2015
Next review due: February 2017