Doorstep criminals ‘looking to return to their aggressive ways’

The flow of people back to workplaces is leaving the elderly and vulnerable at renewed risk from doorstep crime, National Trading Standards (NTS) is warning.

Previous coronavirus lockdowns, with many people working from home, have helped to hold criminals who pressurise people on their own doorstep in check, as neighbours have supported each other.

Doorstep crime complaints dropped significantly during the initial lockdown period, NTS said.

It added that overall during 2020-21 there was a 3% decrease in reported incidents across England and Wales compared with 2019-20.

NTS said threats related to doorstep scams include:

– Telephone calls, emails, leaflets and websites to make initial contact with victims. Deceptive marketing could make scammers appear local;

– Fake “approved trader” websites, which list supposed official approved businesses when in fact the approval scheme is non-existent and most traders listed appear to be connected to known doorstep crime offenders;

– Repeat victimisation of those who are the most vulnerable;

– Links with organised crime – including money laundering and modern slavery.

Criminals have also adapted their tactics during the pandemic, with a huge rise in mass marketing scams, NTS said.

Such scams include physical post such as fake competitions and lotteries, but the recent increase in mass marketing scams has been driven by criminals moving online and preying on people’s fears about Covid-19 to sell fake items.

Impersonation scams, where people receive texts, emails or calls purporting to be from trusted organisations such as the NHS, HM Revenue & Customs or parcel delivery firms have also been rife.

NTS said it is concerned that seasoned criminals may not only revert to aggressive doorstep tactics, but will continue to use skills learned during lockdowns to exploit the vulnerable in other ways.

NTS chairman Lord Toby Harris said: “Lockdown restrictions and a focus on protecting the vulnerable during the pandemic created a tougher environment for doorstep criminals. Whilst it’s great that normality is returning for many, we must not forget those who will still be at home and who may be at risk from doorstep criminals looking to return to their aggressive ways.

“We’re calling on communities to continue to look out for one another and to keep in contact with family and friends who may be at risk. If you see anything suspicious, report it to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133.”

John Hayward-Cripps, chief executive of the Neighbourhood Watch Network, said: “During lockdown, many of us felt more connected to our neighbours and a greater sense of belonging to our communities.

“As more of us now leave our homes for extended periods, the elderly and vulnerable may be feeling concerned that we could lose the valuable sense of community built up during the pandemic.

“It is important we continue to take moments out of our day to watch out and care for those in our communities, especially our elderly and vulnerable neighbours.”

Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert said: “We should all be wary of any unexpected knocks on the door.

“Adopting a blanket policy not to buy goods or services offered at the door is the best way to stop any would-be fraudsters in their tracks.

“Don’t be afraid of sounding rude when telling anyone who calls that you don’t buy services offered at the door.”

He said people should report doorstep fraudsters to the police and dial 999 if they have any immediate safety fears.