Appearing friendly, polite and trustworthy is one of the key weapons in the doorstep scammer’s arsenal, and is used to ruthlessly part their unsuspecting victim from as much cash as they can.
As Scams Awareness Month winds up, Croydon Council’s trading standards team turns its attention to doorstep scams.
Commonly posing as a legitimate doorstep sales person, the scammer will attempt to sell goods or services that are of poor quality, are unnecessary, faulty, over-priced, or even which do not exist.
In most cases the unsuspecting householder is unaware of the inflated price for the goods or services being offered as the sum agreed starts low but then escalates rapidly. Victims are often billed for services that they did not ask for, or which were worth considerably less. And they can be deliberately targeted either by the condition of their property, or by their demeanour.
The scammer’s adoption of a friendly persona skilfully conceals the pressure being applied as, having found his mark, he sets about his heartless task.
Sadly, recent months have seen Croydon Council’s trading standards officers investigating a range of doorstep scams, some of which have ended with residents losing significant sums.
Case study: Doorstep callers offering building work
Following a house fire, an elderly woman in Purley contacted a building firm to get a quote for repairs, having received a flyer offering building services.
Accepting a quote of £70,000 for the carrying out of extensive repairs, she went to her bank to withdraw £5,000 for an initial payment. The bank assistant became suspicious and contacted the council’s trading standards team.
The woman was advised of the pitfalls of dealing with cold callers, but ignored the trading standards officers’ (TSOs) warning, and chose to pay the builders £5,000 to get the repair work under way. Progress proved very slow and limited, and the builders pressured and intimidated the resident into paying a further £30,000, to enable the work to continue.
Following further advice from TSOs, the resident is now aware that she has been conned and overcharged for the work, and the matter is currently being investigated by the trading standards team.
Other recent incidents of doorstep scams include the dehumidifier deposit scam, which sees a resident duped into thinking that they have damp in their property and that they need to hire or buy a dehumidifier, at a cost of several thousand pounds. This turns out to be completely unnecessary.
Seasonal summer doorstep cons have involved gardening and tree-cutting services, with cold callers targeting homes with tall trees, overgrown shrubs and rickety fences.
One householder had traders regularly turning up at the house to prune the trees or shrubs. They would, however, remove only a small amount of the growth, giving them an excuse to come back and do the work again in a month’s time. Each visit resulted in a charge of at least £100.
TSOs advise residents that it is cheaper to keep a garden under control, than be targeted by doorstep traders.
Councillor Hamida Ali, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice
“Doorstep crime is notoriously difficult to combat as the con artists who prey on often very vulnerable people come across as friendly, plausible and trustworthy.
“They are, of course, anything but, and their sole aim in forging a relationship is to exploit victims for every penny they can.
“The old advice is the best advice – don’t let any cold callers into your home, check and double check any ID they may offer, and always get at least three quotes, from reputable companies, for any work that may need doing.”
Croydon’s trading standards team works with residents, banks and community groups across the borough, to help residents avoid becoming victims of doorstep crime.
The team offers tips and advice to help residents protect themselves from doorstep scams.
Top tips to avoid doorstep scams
1. Use a door chain to check who’s calling.
2. If someone knocks at your door, always examine and check their identification.
3. Never let anyone into your house unless they are someone you know and trust.
4. Don’t immediately agree to any offer involving a significant amount of money, time or commitment. Seek independent/legal advice first.
5. Don’t trade on the door step.
6. Display a “No cold calling sticker” outside your door.
7. Ask a trusted friend or family member for advice on reputable traders.
8. Always report any suspicious activity.
What can consumers do to tackle scams?
Here are three steps that residents can take if they suspect they are the target of a scam.
• Get advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service online at www.citizensadvice.org.uk or by calling 03454 04 05 06. More information about Scams Awareness Month can be found at www.citizensadvice.org.uk/sam16/
• Report scams and suspected scams to Action Fraud online at www.actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040. Reporting can help prevent it happening to others. If debit cards, online banking or cheques are involved in the scam, the consumer’s first step should be to contact their bank or card company.
• Tell family, friends and neighbours so that they can avoid scams.