How to spot and prevent doorstep scams

Doorstep or in-person scams may have been present for a long time, but they will not stop in the coming years. We have teamed up with Age UK Oxfordshire to help you understand how to avoid scammers online, over the phone and in person.

Written by

Sheila Frampton

According to National Trading Standards, 85% of the victims of doorstep scams are aged 65 and over, making this age category a particular target for in-person scammers. While there are legitimate reasons that some businesses may knock on your door in relation to their services, there are others who will use this as an opportunity to scam you out of your money or personal details for their own nefarious gain. 

For this blog we have teamed up with Age UK Oxfordshire, who have scam awareness experts on their team ready to give you advice, should you need it, you may find their contact details at the end of the blog. However, before we look more closely into the most common doorstep scams, we would like to remind you that should you find yourself in an emergency with a stranger at your doorstep, you should call 999 if it is possible to do so, or you may call 111 if you are not in immediate danger.

We have written a series of blogs on the subject of identifying and avoiding scams, including over the phone, on the internet and on your doorstep. Read on to discover our guide to spotting in-person scams, written in association with Age UK Oxfordshire

A credit card on a laptop
An elderly gentleman speaking to a woman

Why are older people the target of scammers?

Every sector of the population is targeted by scammers but older people are particularly vulnerable because:

  • Older people are likely to have more savings or a pension pot.
  • Older people are considered less ‘internet’ aware and less security conscious when using computers.
  • Many older people are more trusting or more easily confused, particularly if the scammers appear to be from a public service, a utility company, Royal Mail or a bank.
  • Older people are more likely to be at home and to use a landline.
  • Older people are less likely to report fraud because of self-blame and a feeling of shame.
  • Older people are less likely to be a physical threat to doorstep callers, fake couriers and fake tradespeople.
A clip board that has been marked as a scam
A wallet housing credit cards.
An older person using a mobile phone

What doorstep scams should I be aware of? 

Doorstep scams are when someone tries to gain access to your money or home by pretending to be a charity worker, tradesperson or someone needing help who calls at your door. People often presume that someone who is nice and polite is genuine but sadly this often isn’t the case.

  • Rogue traders:  these are people who call at your door pretending to note structural issues with your home or your overgrown garden and saying they can fix it. These types of scammers often target older people – so please be way of any tradesperson calling at the door.
  • Fake police/ bank staff:  these doorstep callers claim to be from the police or bank and may want to take personal details and particularly your bank details. They may be calling about fraud at the bank or a problem with a grandchild.
  • Door to door sales/utility officials:  The person at your door may claim to be from your gas or electricity or water supplier but without official ID.  Your utility company representatives will always contact you prior to a visit and the workers will always have official ID. If the ID looks official but they have not made an appointment, ask them to return at another time and contact the company on a trusted number to check.
  • Fake charity workers:  Be wary of charity workers who have a pushy sales pitch and are unable to produce a registered charity number and don’t give them any of your bank details.
  • Unexpected deliveries:  If you receive unexpected goods or an unexpected delivery, it could be the sign of a scam. The scammer will trick you into believing you have ordered something that you don’t remember and which results in them asking for a service payment or entering your home to obtain your personal details.
  • Strangers in need:  It’s incredibly sad that some scammers pose as strangers in need of your help, who want to enter your home to phone a friend, family or insurance company or simply to use your bathroom. Please be very wary.

 

How to avoid doorstep scams

  • If you are not expecting anyone, lock all other outer doors before unlocking the front door.
  • Put the door chain on and, if you have a peep hole, check who is at the door.
  • Always ask for ID and examine it carefully. If in doubt, leave the person on the doorstep, lock the door and phone the company they claim to come from.
  • Never buy from door-to-door salespeople.
  • Ask for a "NO COLD CALLERS" sign from the local council and put it where it can be seen from outside.
  • Set up a password with your utility providers to be used by anyone they may send round.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to say ‘no’ or ask a cold caller to leave.
  • Never sign anything on the spot – even if it does seem legitimate.
  • Don’t accept deliveries of anything you did not order even if addressed to you.
  • Never hand over cash, bank cards or any other valuables to anyone even those claiming to be from the police or the bank.

 

How to report doorstep scams

  • Report to Action Fraud
  • Contact Citizens Advice if you have been defrauded on your doorstep.
  • Call the police on 101 if you’re not in immediate danger or 999 in an emergency.


Watch Age UK's video for tips on how to avoid being scammed on your doorstep

A tradesperson
Signing a clipboard outside
A tradesperson

What postal scams should I be aware of? 

A postal scam is a letter sent with the intention of gaining money through deception.

Scam mail is mass produced but made to look like a personal letter or important document with the sole purpose of tricking you into sending cash, making money transfers or giving away personal information. The types of postal scam include:

  • Letters and prize draws – these are the most common scams. You may be told that you have won a fantastic prize or a sum of money, but you have to send some sort of fee to release it – or give your bank account details so it can be paid. A genuine company would never ask you to pay anything.
  • Psychics and Clairvoyants:  Scammers claiming to be able to see your future say they have information, and you must pay them to find out what it is.
  • Parcel delivery scams:  A card posted through your door will state that the delivery service was unable to deliver a parcel and you need to contact the service by phone on the number provided on the card. This is usually a premium rate number with a long-recorded message causing you to receive an expensive phone bill. It may be that when you ring the number, they say you have to pay for redelivery of the parcel.
  • Pyramid scheme scams:  the scammer advertises an investment scheme and suggests you could make considerable profit for little risk. You are asked to pay a fee to enter the scheme and get financial rewards for recruiting friends and family. In reality, the product you are investing in is worthless or non-existent and your money goes straight to the scammers.

 

How to protect yourself from postal scams

  • Never respond to scam letters.
  • Be wary of anyone who writes to you saying you have won something or that you can earn huge rewards for investing.
  • Look at the grammar and spelling in the letter – if it’s badly written, it’s likely to be a scam.
  • Are they asking you for money? Any unexpected request for money is suspicious – don’t send them any.
  • If you are moving home, Action Fraud recommends a Redirection to reduce the risk of identity fraud and mail should be redirected for at least a year.

 

How to report postal scams

Contact Royal Mail. There is a dedicated form on the Royal Mail’s website on  www.help.royalmail.com. Alternatively, you can call 03454 040506.

You can also write to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service, 2nd floor, Fairfax House, Merrion Street, Leeds LS2 8JU.

A red British post box
A front door
A signature on paper

Have you been affected by a scam? Here’s what you should do next…

If you're from Oxfordshire and have been affected by scams and would like to discuss a one-to-one visit with Age UK Oxfordshire, or would like to organise a group talk to raise awareness of scams please get in touch by emailing scamsupport@ageukoxfordshire.org.uk or call 0345 450 1276.

You are also able to find information about your local Age UK Office here, who will be happy to support you.

Age UK also run their “Age UK Advice Line” on 0800 678 1602, a general telephone line with operatives who will be able to give you advice, and direct you towards resources to help you. The line is open 8am to 7pm every day of the year.

 

How can I get in touch with Action Fraud? 

Action Fraud is the UK’s national fraud and internet crime reporting unit. The telephone number is 0300 123 2040 and you can contact them online on www.actionfraudalert.co.uk.

 

Discover our other blogs in our 'Scam Awareness' series

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