Scams Awareness Month: darkening the doorstep

 

Winding up Scams Awareness Month, Croydon Council’s trading standards (TS) team turns its attention to doorstep crime for the final week, beginning on Monday (27).

The slogan for this year’s campaign is “Don’t be rushed, don’t be hushed”, and its aim is to warn consumers about being rushed by scammers, and refusing to be hushed into silence by a sense of shame, foolhardiness or weary acceptance.

Many legitimate businesses sell products such as windows, solar panels, and home maintenance services, via door-to-door salesmen.

Gas, electricity and water companies will also visit to read meters, while charities use the direct approach in seeking donations or to leave collection bags for residents to fill and leave out for collection.

Doorstep crime often begins with a trader cold calling – making an unsolicited call – at a house, trying to sell goods or provide services such as building work, gardening or window cleaning. Starting low to draw the victim in, the prices escalate rapidly.

Victims – often the more vulnerable members of society – are deliberately targeted either by the condition of their property or by their demeanour. And, in many cases, the work is completely unnecessary, shoddy and vastly overpriced.

The criminals who carry out doorstep crime use a number of ruses to win the trust of their victims. The following are some of the methods that the council’s TS team has investigated over recent months.

Dehumidifier deposit scam

Vigilant bank staff called the TS team when a retired man from Thornton Heath, wanted to make a bank transfer of £4,800 to cold callers. He was door-knocked by two men who said that he had damp in his flat’s party wall. They demanded a deposit of £4,800 for two dehumidifiers. Thanks to the bank’s cashier staff he did not make the bank transfer or lose any money.

Beware insulation cold callers

Complaints have been lodged by residents who have been cold called by representatives selling loft-insulation products. While most callers legitimately inform residents that they could receive a grant toward the cost of insulation for their home, others are using it as a way to “up-sell” to other energy-savings products, usually at vastly inflated prices. A range of grants is available; for information, go to www.insulationgrants.info/loft-insulation or www.warmfront.co.uk

Conman posing as trading standards officer

One unwitting resident was conned out of £2,000 after being told by a conman claiming to be a TS officer that his property needed urgent work carried out to its chimney stacks. The man said that ventilation shafts needed to be installed, and the resident handed over the cash, at which point the “officer” left, he said, to buy materials. The resident called the TS team to verify the facts, only to discover that he had been the victim of a nasty scam.

Rogue traders offering building work

In another incident, the team was alerted by bank staff, when a customer asked to transfer £25,000 for building work, having already withdrawn £3,000 in cash after being cold called by a man offering to trim his hedge for £10. The man had returned the next day offering to replace bricks under the property’s front window and then told the resident that the house had damp. The victim was asked to pay £3,000 to replace the bricks. Over the course of a month, the victim paid the builders a total of £37,800. A surveyor’s report valued the work actually carried out to be worth approximately £500-£750.

Tips to avoid becoming the victim of a doorstep scam

Croydon’s TS team advises householders to be wary of anybody who turns up uninvited on their doorstep. They should not let strangers into their house without first checking the validity of any ID they’re shown, and they should realise that no reputable trader would need to cold call to obtain work.

If an offer of cheap work is made, residents should be very suspicious, send the caller packing and immediately notify either the council’s TS team or the police. A prompt call might result in the conman being apprehended if he’s working the area.

If you are in any doubt as to the authenticity of someone claiming to be from the council, the best advice is to call the general switchboard on 020 8726 6000.

Councillor Mark Watson, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice

“Doorstep crime can be particularly hard to combat as the perpetrators are very clever at choosing their victims and then coming across as friendly, completely plausible and trustworthy.

“They are, of course, anything but, and their sole aim in forging a relationship is to milk their victim 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.”

More information about scams can be found by visiting the Citizens Advice Consumer Service at www.citizensadvice.org.uk and typing “doorstep crime” into the search field.

In the Metropolitan Police area, all fraud should be reported directly to Action Fraud online at www.actionfraud.org.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040. The exceptions are if a crime is in progress or about to be committed, the suspect is known or can be easily identified, or the crime involves a vulnerable victim.

If any of these is the case, you should contact police directly by dialling either 999 in an emergency, or 101 in a non-emergency.

If you have any information on any crime and you would prefer not to speak to police, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111or visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org

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