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 out of money. There can be added pressure with face-to-face interaction, and this can sometimes be even more challenging than dealing with other types of scams, such as phone scams and online scams. There are plenty 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 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
Follow our advice to 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. 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. This gives access to extra services if you’re 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, ask if they’d mind being on standby in case you get any suspicious callers on the doorstep. 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. A genuine caller will return at a prearranged time when you’re able to have someone else in your home with you.
- 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. Read more about what’s available in our guide to smart doorbells, cameras and security systems.
- 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
We’ve collected some examples of common doorstep scams that we’ve come across. Find out more:
Doorstep scams during the lockdown
Research by Which? has revealed that reports of doorstep scams dropped significantly in the early stages of the first national coronavirus lockdown, in the spring of 2020. But after a few months there was an upsurge in doorstep fraud, with scammers looking for new ways to exploit vulnerable victims.
- Read more: How doorstep scammers exploited the pandemic
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.
UK’s National Fraud reporting centre, monitoring and investigating cases of fraud. If you’ve been scammed or conned, let them know.
- 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 (who can pass complaints to your local Trading Standards authority) if you believe they have sold you faulty, inferior or overpriced products or services.
The Citizens Advice Consumer Service helps you stand up for your consumer rights and gives you the information you need to solve problems with goods or services. For Scotland and Northern Ireland, click through from the CA home page.
If you can’t find what you are looking for on the website, chat online with an adviser:
- 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.
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