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Consumer Rights.

2 November 2021

Doorstep scams and how to avoid them

W
Which?Editorial team

What is a doorstep scam?

A doorstep scam (or doorstep fraud) involves someone calling to your front door out of the blue, with the aim of tricking you out of money.

There can be an added pressure when dealing with someone face-to-face. This can sometimes be even more challenging than dealing with other types of scams, such as phone scams or online scams. There are some 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 below to prevent doorstep scams.

How big is the problem?

According to Action Fraud, around £18.7m was lost to doorstep scammers in 2020, but it also believes that many of these offences go unreported.

Scammers often target older people for doorstep scams as they are more likely to be at home during the day, and scammers might find it easier to intimidate or confuse them. In fact, 85% of victims of doorstep scams are aged 65 and over, according to National Trading Standards.

Protect yourself 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: place a sign in the window near your front door saying that uninvited callers are not welcome.
  • Keep your home secure: don’t let any stranger into your home. Keep your doors locked with the chain on.
  • Look for ID: 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’re 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 – only genuine callers will be aware of your password. Call your utility company to arrange this. To activate the service they might need to put you on their Priority Services Register
  • Nominate a neighbour: if you have a relative or friend who lives close by, ask if they’d mind being on standby in case you get any suspicious callers. Before letting a stranger into your house, give your neighbour a call and ask them to pop round. If you don’t know anyone nearby, contact your local Neighbourhood Watch Scheme or Safer Neighbourhood Team to find out if they can help.
  • Consider smart security devices: smart doorbells incorporate a camera and can enable you to speak to a caller without opening the door; some can also send a message to a relative notifying them that you have a visitor. Find out more in our guide to smart security.
  • Take a photo: if you’re suspicious, ask the caller if you can take their photo on your mobile phone. Then send it to a close friend or relative. If the caller is 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.

Common doorstep scams to look out for

Here are a few examples of common doorstep scams.

Rogue traders

The scam: a trader will come to your home and offer to do some work for you at a special rate – this might be new paving or a new driveway. Another common tactic is to claim that you have a hole in your roof or your damage to your guttering – usually something that you can’t easily check yourself. They’ll say that it’s very urgent and put pressure on you to get the work done immediately.

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 respectable and friendly) will turn up on your doorstep pretending that, for example, they need to use the phone because their car has broken down or 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 the other will gain access to your home.

Bogus officials

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.

Nottingham Knockers

The scam: usually carried out by young men, who go door to door selling household products. They carry a fake ID and claim to be recently out of prison or on probation, and claim that this is a legitimate rehabilitation scheme.

The reality: the household goods are supplied by a man (traditionally from Nottingham, hence the name) who employs them. A group of young men are dropped off to work an area, and then collected by the same man later that day. The knockers’ role is to establish where elderly or vulnerable people live, and this information is then sold on to other criminals. If they come to your door, the advice from the police is to phone 101 to report them. However persistent they are with their hard-luck stories, do not buy from them.

What to do if you’re caught out by a doorstep scam? 

If you’re caught out by a doorstep scam, there are several steps you can take.

Report the incident to Action Fraud, the UK’s National Fraud reporting centre, who monitor and investigate cases of fraud. Speak to an Action Fraud adviser directly on 0300 123 2040.Alert your local police or Neighbourhood Watch so they can warn other residents that the fraudster is in the area.

Report dodgy salespeople to Citizens Advice (CA) (who can pass complaints to your local Trading Standards authority) if you believe they have sold you faulty, inferior or overpriced products or services. Call the CA Consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133 or chat with an adviser online.

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 it can do. It should be able to offer advice on stopping the payment and keeping your bank account safe.

Tops tips for employing a trader

Remember, 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.

  • Where possible, choose a trader who has been recommended by local family or friends.
  • Never hire a trader who comes to the door looking for work.
  • Use approval schemes, such as Which? Trusted Traders, Buy with Confidence or the Consumer 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.

Find your local Which? Trusted Traders - Find reputable traders who have passed our rigorous assessment, carried out by trading standards professionals.