Trading Standards Officers and the Police hear from hundreds of Londoners who are victims of criminals calling at their homes – some of whom have lost thousands of pounds or have been left frightened to live in their own home. Many hundreds more will be too embarrassed to report the crime.
The best thing you can do to avoid falling victim is to refuse to buy any goods or services from people calling unexpectedly at your home.
It is useful to understand some of the tactics of doorstep criminals as an extra precaution.
- Small job / big job: Many rogue traders will start offering a small job – “Do you want your gutters cleared for £30?” or “I’ve seen a loose roof tile: do you want us to secure it?” – to entice households to employ them. Very soon they will be knocking again with a more serious story, making immediate work sound vital – “There’s major problems with your roof”; “Your chimney could collapse at any moment”. Before the victim knows it, they are faced with rapidly escalating costs.
- Causing the problem: Rogue builders have been known to damage property, or remove parts of the roof (“We had to, so we could see the extent of the problem”) before going back to the householder with the increased and extortionate price. Too many householders feel pressured to allow them to continue, even knowing they may not be honest, as they have a hole in their roof.
- The charm fades: Rogues traders are always charming to begin with – this is a vital quality to overcome any reservations that their victim’s may have. This will only last while the homeowner continues agreeing to work and paying the rapidly increasing costs, however – questions about the need for or cost the work will see it quickly disappear. Instead, there will be scaremongering (“Your house is unsafe”); threats (“We’ll undo everything we’ve done” or “We’ll come back”); and abuse. Anything that persuades the victim that it’s best allow them to continue will be tried.
- Payment methods: The preferred payment will be in cash – even if they have to insist on driving you to the bank for you to withdraw it. Bank transfers will also be popular – but not necessarily safer: the account it not likely to belong to them (too traceable) but to someone, often a vulnerable and naïve acquaintance, they are paying to act as a ‘money mule’. This way they can obscure the final destination of the money. They will never accept credit cards.
- Absent paperwork: Providing certain pre-contract information in writing – including a detailed description of the work, the price, and the name, business address and contact details of the trader – is a legal requirement. A cancellation notice, explaining the customers right to cancel the work without penalty is also a requirement.
- Misrepresentations: Callers may misrepresent the goods they are trying to sell – “Our fish is fresh from Grimsby this morning” for example – or themselves (“I’m part of an ex-offenders’ rehabilitation scheme”). Most seriously, some will present themselves as a Police Officer or council or utilities worker and seek to get entry to your home. Always check their details with their employers if the visit is not pre-arranged. If in doubt, keep them out!
LTS has published further information on-line here: Doorstep Crime – London Trading Standards; and a booklet, ‘Don’t Deal at the Door’ (with a ‘no uninvited traders’ notice on the back), which is available from your local Trading Standards team (details will be found on the council website).