Doorstep crime happens when someone comes to your house or doorstep, usually without an appointment, with the sole intention of getting something out of you, whether that be money or information. No one likes to deal with confrontation, especially when it is on your doorstep, so there is added pressure when someone is at your door. It is much easier to put the phone down on someone than it is to shut the door in their face, which is why some people find doorstep callers much more difficult to deal with than cold-callers on the phone or online.
Action Fraud released figures to say that around £18.7m was scammed on doorsteps, but since many of these crimes go unreported it is likely to be much more than that.
National Trading Standards figures showed that the over- 65s were 85% more likely to be a victim of a doorstep crime. This is because older people might be more likely to be home during the day while their neighbours are out at work, which makes them more isolated, with fewer people around who might be able to intervene.
People buy from so-called Nottingham Knockers on the premise that it is a legitimate scheme for (usually) young people who are just out of prison on probation and that this is part of their rehabilitation back into society and the workforce. However, there is no such scheme and these young men (and their gang-masters) are considered to be doorstep criminals because, while you are getting goods (albeit over-priced) for your money, their interactions on the doorstep are used to gather intelligence around addresses which might be good for a subsequent burglary or doorstep approach, information which is then sold on to other criminals, perhaps to some of the doorstep criminals listed below.
Rogue trading is usually associated with people wanting to re-lay your drive way, or pressure wash it, or empty your gutters, but it might even be someone looking like a builder with a sign-written van, saying they had noticed roof tiles had slipped and they had just had a job cancelled and can fit you in today if you want. (Note the rush element: “I am free now”, “today”, “immediately”, implying you will miss out if you don’t say yes.) They might offer to do it cheaply as they are already in the area.
Unfortunately, the reality can be a number of things:
- They might have made up the problem, or even caused a problem.
- They might demand money upfront and not come back and do the work.
- They might do shoddy work.
- They might charge a lot more than the job is worth, or that was verbally agreed.
Hard-luck stories can come in many guises , “My car has broken down, can I use your phone?” This was mainly used before everyone owned a mobile phone. “My dog has vanished through the hedge, is it in your garden?” or “I have come over all funny, could I trouble you for a glass of water?” Of course, you will want to be helpful. However, if the person is working alone, s/he might look to see what valuables you have lying around while you are getting, or taking them to, the phone, or getting a cup of water. If they are working in pairs, the person on the doorstep might keep you talking while an accomplice slips into the house through another door and searches it for a so-called distraction burglary.
The Bogus official scam isn’t much different to the hard-luck stories, it is just another way of gaining your trust. If an official person with a uniform and an ID badge looks to be from the Police or a utility supplier, you might let them in to check something, or read the meter, or answer their questions which will be designed to gain information from you.
The good news is that there are are lots of things people can do to protect themselves!
It is much easier to adopt a policy of not buying or selling on the doorstep and not letting anyone into your home without an appointment. If you are ever unsure, and especially if the caller has become pushy or intimidating, ring 999.
- 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. “We’re Not Buying It” stickers are available from firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Keep your home secure: don’t let any stranger into your home. Keep your doors locked with the chain on if you open the door.
- 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 is 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 utility’s 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 would 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 are suspicious, take a photo of the caller’s van, make a note of the registration number, keep any documentation they provide.
Call the police: if a caller is 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.