Even though we are living the age of the data breach and other online scams, dishonest people will still use old fashioned techniques to steal from you. This is due to the simple fact that these methods still work. One of these old-school tactics is the door-to-door scam.

In a door-to-door scam, the fraudster knocks on your door and typically offers a product or service, but their primary goal is to steal from you. They will typically do this by convincing you to pay cash up-front for a service that is never rendered, or distracting you while an accomplice ransacks your home.

These people often target seniors because Baby Boomers were raised to be courteous and trusting—the perfect characteristics for con artists to exploit. Rather than refusing to answer the door for a stranger or just saying no to a product or service, many elders allow scammers to get their foot in the door (figuratively and sometimes literally) with sales pitches and emotional manipulation because they do not want to be perceived as rude.

To help you better understand how these con artists work, take a look at a few prime examples of their work that have been reported to law enforcement.

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Typically the scammer knocks on your door and informs you that there has been a string of burglaries in your area. This information, whether it is true or not, evokes fear in your mind and makes you a more vulnerable target. They will then state that, for your protection, their company is offering free home security inspections. They are supposedly offering a solution to help alleviate your fear and protect your valuables, but in reality, they are trying to gain your trust. While conducting the “inspection,” the scammer will search your home for areas of vulnerability, mentally catalog the types of valuables in your possession, where they are located and how well they are protected. Essentially, these criminals use fearmongering and misplaced trust to “case the joint” with your permission.

Ruse Entry Burglary: Tree Trimming

A woman was approached by a man while working in her yard one day. The man explained that he was with a tree trimming service that was working in the neighborhood and asked her to move her car out of the driveway so he could access the back of her residence. When the woman asked questions about the work to be done, he became confrontational and demanding. Meanwhile, his partner entered her home and stole cash and valuables. The conversation about moving her car was merely a distraction to keep her attention away from his partner’s nefarious activity.

Utility Scams: Electric Company

In this scenario the swindler will find and target an area that has suffered a power outage. They will knock on a person’s door, pretending an employee of the electric company, and may even present a fake badge or ID. They inform the resident that, for a small fee ($100 or less), their power will be restored. This is especially effective in the height of winter when homeowners are concerned about being without electricity and heat for an unknown period of time. The target pays the money and eventually their power is restored thanks to the actual electric company. The victim has no idea that they were just scammed. This can happen with any utility. (Side note: Do not be fooled by requests for money that are less than $100. Not all scammers request large sums.)

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Below is a list of other fake services used in door-to-door scams:

  • Fence repair
  • Roof repair
  • Siding repair
  • Driveway repair
  • Automobile repair
  • Building code violation
  • Free home security inspection
  • Tree trimming
  • Door-to-door sales
  • Impersonation of electric company, water company or other utility

How to protect yourself and your loved one from door-to-door scams:

  • Never respond to unsolicited offers of service.
  • If you need services or repairs done on your property or in your home, make a point of scheduling these appointments to avoid uncertainty over who is and is not legitimate.
  • Always ask for identification.
  • Have unexpected service people wait outside while you contact their company or employer at their main phone number. Be sure to look up the company’s contact information in the phone book or online. Do not use the number listed on the individual’s business card, as it may be fake.
  • Ask the person to leave their information and return next week. This will give you plenty of time to verify their credentials and the validity of the visit.
  • If you live alone, never share this information with an unsolicited visitor.
  • Never give cash to door-to-door people who are offering a service or demanding payment.
  • Be cautious of people that demand immediate and up-front payment.
  • Report suspicious activity to your local law enforcement agency.
  • Tell your neighbors about any unusual experiences you have had or observed. This could help them avoid becoming victims.
  • Keep your doors locked, even while you are home.

Your best defense is to not answer the door in the first place, but that may be unrealistic. By following these tips, you will greatly reduce the risk of becoming a victim of a door-to-door ruse.