/ Scams

Have you been visited by a doorstep scammer?

Amid the third national lockdown, we’ve heard a growing number of reports of suspicious uninvited callers targeting people on their doorsteps. Have you been paid a visit?

We’re doing more things than ever online and by phone during the pandemic, so it’s no surprise that scam sites, calls and texts have rightly garnered media attention.

But we’re also hearing more reports of doorstep scammers. Last week came the horrifying news of a COVID-19 vaccine fraudster who charged a pensioner £160 after visiting her home and injecting an unknown substance into her arm.

Back in July, our Which? Trusted Traders team issued a similar warning, while the Master Locksmiths Association warned of a surge in rogue locksmiths entering the largely unregulated profession – possibly as a result of having lost their previous employment due to the pandemic.

In one case, a woman was quoted £200 after being locked out, with the fee suddenly increasing to £1.5k once the job was completed. She was too scared to argue as she and the scammer were alone at night and he was holding a drill.

In October, we also hosted the Confederation of Roofing Contractors here on Which? Conversation, which had also noticed a surge of cold calls in its profession.

Investigating face-to-face scams

Which? Money is looking into this possible increase in doorstep scams and we’d like to hear from you about your experiences since the pandemic began.

Have you received any unsolicited home visits which made you feel uncomfortable? These could include:

⚠ Tradespeople offering services (e.g. tarmacing, roofing, double glazing)

⚠ Charity representatives or those with personal ‘hard luck’ stories

⚠ Salespeople (e.g. cleaning and household products)

⚠ People claiming to represent the council, police or NHS

⚠ People offering to switch your energy supply

⚠ Anyone else whose purpose you weren’t sure of?

Perhaps the visitor asked or demanded to be invited in, put you under pressure to make a snap decision, or asked for sensitive personal and financial information?

If you’ve rather not describe what happened in public, please do leave a comment letting us know and we’ll arrange for one of the team to contact you directly for a personal chat.

Comments

It’s strange how much front-door cold calling is going on given how locked down we are all meant to be. We’ve had the usual – ‘charity’ and hard luck sellers, offers to change utility suppliers, workmen who will ‘fix the roof/drive/gutters mate’ et al. We have found the best response is a polite ‘we never buy anything at the door’ but this still can prompt swearing and an angry response. Sadly, there are far too many con-artists and scammers out there.

hugh bryce says:
23 January 2021

I just say i don’tbuy anything at the door. Anything i need done is done by people i have known all my life and trust.

Nick C says:
25 January 2021

Ever since we installed a video doorbell, the number of cold callers has fallen. Those that do come to the door knock instead of pressing the doorbell, but we answer using the camera/mic. For some reason they don’t like that.

G Murray says:
25 January 2021

We had a team of three working our neighbourhood towards the end of last year. Two lads knocking at door offering a roof cleaning service. They said that their colleague would call by later and give us a quote if we were interested as he was returning to two of our neighbours who were getting them to work on their roofs. They even quoted the neighbours names and house numbers. It sounded convincing, but they failed to realise that we’re a close neighbourhood and when we checked with the two neighbours, it turned out they hadn’t agreed to any work and had been fed the same line about two other neighbours getting their roof done! One had gone as far as getting a quote which turned out to be excessive, and when they declined the guy dropped the price to a third of the original one. Needless to say they declined the offer..
We reported the threesome to our local community police officer who spread the word around the town to watch out for them. Never seen them in our area since then.

Had a visit from someone who had “an appointment” to read our electricity meter, we had the meters replaced less than 4 weeks prior to that. Spoke to him through the window, which is high off the outside ground, and when I told him we had new meters fitted he said, yes but the meter needed to be physically read. Told him we were shielding and he could not enter, he got a little shirty, and tried to insist that he had the right to enter. Told him NO, and referred him back to his Head Office. He had no mask on nor was he carrying any foot covering for his boots. He told me that he would have to report this as non compliance with regulations as he had the right to enter. Told him fine you just do that. Naturally not heard anything since.

Teresa says:
26 January 2021

I’ve had a few guys knocking on the door of my new house lately, asking if we need any gardening, window cleaning, etc. I just tell them it’s a rented house and the landlord takes care of all that. There’s nothing much they can say to that – and it avoids any nasty verbal comebacks.

Tip: I normally keep a ‘We Do Not Buy at the Door’ or ‘No Cold Callers’ sticker on the door. These can be obtained for free from your local council, library or police station.

It’s unlikely that any door-to-door caller offering roofing, gardening or household repairs can show evidence of training, qualification, membership of a professional organisation, and valid insurance. Without the latter there is no recourse if your property is damaged, and worse, he/she could claim damages for any injury they receive (or fake) while working on your premises.
We haven’t seen unusual numbers here, but last autumn had three separate ones
: a doorstep caller offering to prune trees, claiming to be in the area cutting neighbours’ trees and hedges. He did wear a mask, wore appropriate work clothes, and talked from the garden gate. No sound or sight of any work in other gardens, though.
: another similar, but just in ordinary street clothes, no mask, same story.
: one man, claiming that he was cleaning next-door’s gutters (he could see grass growing in them), offering to do ours as well for £40. Wearing ordinary street clothes, no mask, an over-friendly manner. After my (polite) refusal, he approached too close to the door (no mask), hand extended as if to shake hands, while suggesting other jobs (tidying garden, pruning trees), I backed off, part closing the door, and he retreated out of the gate to be picked up immediately by a companion in a car – who must have been waiting and watching – and driven away. There was no work done at neighbour’s.
One other suspicious caller, pre-dating lockdown, – was a young woman on behalf of a childrens’ charity, with authentic-looking ID badge, not interested in a one-off donation, but persuasively asking for a regular donation by direct debit – for which I was to enter my details on her tablet screen. Maybe this was genuine, and possibly only a request for contact details for the charity to follow up – or was it a scam, to harvest bank details? I declined.

In our last house we regularly had cold callers offering to reduce our tall trees and very considerable hedges. Most of them said that they were doing other work in the area and were taking the opportunity to drum up fresh trade in the area while they were at it, and as some of them pointed me to the specific houses where they were currently working I had no reason to disbelieve them. However my other half – unlike me! – liked out tall trees and, back then. I was well able to keep our hedges in check – and in any case I wouldn’t have employed anyone for that sort of task without being assured in advance of their professionalism and experience.

I did once receive a visit from a dubious looking young guy who said that he’d come to collect the money pledged for a parachute drop he’d undertaken to raise money for a local homeless charity. As I certainly hadn’t committed to that, I gave him a brisk brush-off, which he attempted to parry by asking whether my wife might have made the offer. I told him that I’d ask her, but for now he certainly wasn’t getting anything. When she came home I asked her, and unsurprisingly she knew nothing about it. Some weeks later he returned, and I ejected him smartly. A couple of weeks later I read in the local paper that he’d appeared before the local magistrates for having attempted the scam for raise funds to feed his drug habit. Not very bright!

People carrying out extensive work to trees should have an appropriate NPTC [National Professional Training Council] Certificate although it is not a legal requirement. Employing unqualified personnel exposes the householder to risk in the event of a personal injury accident or damage caused by misuse of equipment or incorrect technique.

To see the many disciplines for which there is an appropriate tree work certificate of competence, go to nptc.org.uk. It is best not to let someone who cannot prove their competence climb a tree or use a chainsaw or other powered equipment. An untrained operative might spoil the tree as well.

Christine Williams says:
20 February 2021

A scammer tried to get me to sign up to him cleaning my windows. He asked for prepayment! I said my son (who lives next door) would pay for this work AFTER it was completed to my satisfaction, as I am under a Court of Protection Order. He disappeared very quickly! We warned our other elderly neighbours in our friendly road as we did not want them caught out by this bogus man. These people seem to know where ‘us widows’ live – but they forget we still have some brain-cells that are working well!
Christine.