Take time to be sure before you open the door.
That’s the advice from the water watchdog the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) which is sharing its top tips to help households in Wales outsmart distraction burglars.
CCWater is using National Consumer Week (November 3-7) to remind water customers in Wales of how to protect themselves, their family and neighbours from callous doorstep callers who are not what they claim to be.
About nine bogus caller crimes are reported every day with thieves posing as water or other utility company officials to trick their way into people’s homes before stealing money or other valuables.
But that only tells part of the story with an estimated 90 per cent of distraction burglaries going unreported because many vulnerable victims – particularly the elderly – feel too embarrassed or scared to report the crime.
Almost a fifth of the 3,177 incidents reported in England and Wales in 2013-14 involved people posing as staff from a water company or ‘water boards’, which no longer exist.
These callers may appear to be wearing something resembling water or energy company uniform so, before unlocking the door, CCWater advises people to ask to see their identification and then call their water company to check their identity. Take time to get the right phone number but don’t use any number provided by the doorstep caller. A genuine employee will wait for you to check properly.
For added protection anyone can register a password beforehand with their water or energy company. They can then request the caller quotes this as proof they are from that utility company.
Diane McCrea, chair of the Consumer Council for Water Wales Committee, said: “Distraction burglary is a horrible crime to experience but there are simple things you can do to protect yourself and those you care about.
“If you have an elderly family member, friend or neighbour who might be particularly vulnerable we’d urge you to share our advice with them to give you and them peace of mind. This type of crime is very distressing for victims, as bogus callers exploit people’s vulnerability.
The Consumer Council for Water’s Top Tips to protect against bogus callers:
- Keep your doors locked and your windows secure at all times. Only put the door chain on to answer the door.
- Ask to see the caller’s identification. He or she should show it to you through the crack in the door, or the letter box. You are entirely within your rights to close the door and have the person wait outside while you phone the organisation the caller says they are from to check their validity. Always keep this telephone number close to your phone.
- Check the person is genuine by calling the organisation, but make sure you get the phone number from a separate source, such as the print out from our website (why not do this now and keep it by the phone), the phone book or a previous bill. We recommend that you check their identification even if they appear to be in a company’s uniform. Don’t be afraid to make them wait until you have confirmed their identity.
- It’s OK to refuse entry or ask the person to leave at any time if you’re not completely satisfied that the caller is genuine. If the visit is legitimate, they can ring ahead or reschedule.
- If the visitor insists they need access immediately or before you carry out the necessary checks immediately call 999 and ask for the police.
Consumers can find the contact details for their water company and a list of our top tips to print off at www.ccwater.org.uk
For more information on Citizen’s Advice and Trading Standards Institute’s National Consumer Week campaign tackling doorstep crime visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk
Notes for editors
The Consumer Council for Water works closely with Operation Liberal, the national policing intelligence unit for distraction burglary and associated travelling criminality. All forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are members of Operation Liberal.
Operation Liberal supports national investigations into distraction burglaries and doorstep crime. The unit identifies and analyse crime series and monitors intelligence on criminals and organised crime groups who travel throughout the UK to commit these crime types. This collaborative approach solves more crimes and sends a message to the criminals who commit this type of crime that they will face a nationally co-ordinated investigation and as a result they can expect significant sentences.
Operation Liberal works with many partner agencies including Water UK, Energy UK, Trading Standards, Crimestoppers and the Home Office.
Victims of distraction burglary and rogue trading tend to be elderly and vulnerable and can suffer terribly both emotionally and physically after an offence.