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How To Protect Your Home From Bogus Visitors

Jun 23rd 2013 at 10:37 PM
How To Protect Your Home From Bogus Visitors

The hardest part of stealing valuables is getting into a house without being seen, finding the money or valuables and then getting out again without getting caught. Wouldn’t it be good if a criminal could get you to invite him in, give him some time to look around and then show him out and wave goodbye? Good for him that is, not for you! Unfortunately some criminals manage to do just that, and they use the bogus caller trick to arrange it. They claim to have some sort of official standing when they come to your door, trick you into letting them in, trick you into leaving them alone for a while, then they walk off with the family jewels or your life savings. This is sometimes called a ‘distraction burglary’.

Distraction Burglary

It is easier to divert your attention if two or more of them work together. A pair of bogus callers will engage you in their trick – for example, a bogus electrician who claims to have been sent by the building secretary will ask you to hold his torch while he gets in to check the wiring. Meanwhile his colleague will ask if it is OK for him to use the toilet, which most people readily agree too. But you are trapped holding the torch in the hall while the electrician pretends to check the wiring which is fine! This is a problem that could potentially affect anyone, though it is more likely to have more serious consequences for the elderly and infirm. Bogus callers take many forms, but they are all intent on a criminal objective. Some of the classic bogus caller tricks and methods are described below. The only effective countermeasure that is available to people is not to let the bogus callers into their home.

This doesn’t mean that the elderly are stupid, it simply reflects the fact that they were raised in a time when people were automatically deferential to anyone in authority. For them, somebody in what looks like a uniform would usually be trusted and obeyed without question. Today, there is a decreasing level of respect for authority figures and their argumentative attitude usually protects younger people from the same tricks. Nevertheless, everyone should be aware of the disguises and tricks that are used. Some common tricks are discussed below, but remember that anyone who comes to your door could be a bogus caller.

Bogus Meter Readers

Best Private investigators IndiaPretending to be an electricity or gas meter reader, the bogus caller knocks at your door. They appear to be wearing some sort of official uniform, with a clipboard and a friendly but slightly bored manner and ask where the meter is. Nobody really knows how often the meter reader calls, because they seem to come when they want to, and nobody is surprised to find one on their doorstep. If they have done their research properly they will probably target elderly residents. They shine a torch, write something on a form clipped to their board, thank you and almost as an afterthought ask if they can use the toilet, or maybe ask for drink of water. Whatever they want, it is an excuse to get a chance to look around the house and pocket anything small and valuable. That done they thank the resident again and off they go. The loss is not likely to be discovered for some while, by which time they will be long gone.

Bogus meter reader – countermeasures

All officials carry some form of identification. If they arrive at your front door, you should ask to see their identification. If you have any doubts, there should be a phone number you can call to check the credentials of the man (or woman) on your doorstep.

Caution: if the suspect caller gives you a phone number to call to check up on them, they might just give you the number of a crooked accomplice who will of course vouch for them. If you have any doubts, get a number for the gas company or electricity company they claim to represent from the telephone book, your last gas or electricity bill or directory enquiries and make an independent check on the caller. If the caller is genuine, they will not mind waiting outside the front door for you to confirm their identity.

Fit and use a door chain – that is, a chain that allows the door to be opened enough to see and talk to callers but which will prevent them from easily pushing their way in. Even if they threaten you and demand that you open the door, they know you can’t take the chain off without closing the door first. If you are suspicious or unhappy about a caller, you should close the door and immediately call the police, ask for assistance then wait for the police to arrive. Do NOT open the door again unless it is a police officer knocking. Confirm that by looking out of the window for a police car and real police uniform.

If you do allow a caller into your home, never leave them unattended, whoever they are! Always make sure that you stay in the room with them, and if you have any doubts as to their activities, ask them to leave. If your meter reader does say he has a trainee with him, you can always politely ask the trainee to stay outside, and if they are genuine they will not object. If you are expecting a meter reader, plumber or any other caller, make sure that you don’t put unnecessary temptations before them. Put cash and credit cards away. Put handbags and wallets somewhere out of sight where they will have no need to go. Put small valuables such as jewellery, watches, mobile phones and so on out of sight and in a place where they have no need to go. This isn’t an insult to the caller, you are simply avoiding mistakes and misunderstandings. If you have any suspicions, don’t let them in and call the police and explain the circumstances. They will check with the company or authority to see if they have staff in the area, and if resources allow they will dispatch a police officer to check that caller out.

The blind or disabled can usually arrange for a meter reader to come by appointment, when you could have a relative or carer with you to make sure the meter reader can get in and that they only read the meter while they are there.

Bogus Municipal Employees

This is the same trick but using a different excuse. The caller claims to be from the local authority or housing association. They spin a story about checking the property prior to redecoration, replacement of the gutters or a check on the status of the back garden. The excuse is to get them in through the front door. Once there they adopt the usual routine of engaging the householder in their tricks. For example, the householder who stays in a bungalow is asked to show one guy through to the back gutters while his colleague says he will check the front. Once in the garden the criminal will distract the householder, asking about the flowers, pointing out problems with neighbour’s gutters, or getting you to hold the clipboard while he tugs at the fence to see how strong it is. Copious compliments on the quality of the garden and the tidiness of the house all keep your attention away from the other criminal who has already done a tidy search of the lounge and kitchen and is now upstairs going through the bedrooms.

The one talking to you won’t finish his task until the second man appears to report that the front gutters are OK. His praise for the state of the house, garden or gutters raises a smile on the face of the resident and tells our criminal that his colleague has finished checking the house and has stolen everything worth taking. Once again, they smile and go on their way to try the same trick at a few other houses in the street, before they think they have pushed their luck too far and move on.

Bogus Municipal employees – countermeasures

  • Genuine council employees usually have recognisable uniforms.
  • Genuine council employees usually make appointments with householders.
  • Genuine council employees usually drive distinctive vehicles in council livery – council colours, with council crests painted on the sides. If in doubt call the council BEFORE you let them in! If you can’t get through to the council, call the police and explain your concerns.

Bogus Workmen

Workmen often try to trick their way into homes, but their tricks have some additional ploys built in. They will try to trick their way into your home to
steal things, but they have added some refinements, which usually revolve around them telling you that you need urgent building repairs. For example, they claim that while they were passing they saw that a slate on the roof was cracked. They then try to frighten you, especially if you are elderly, by claiming that if the tile isn’t replaced immediately the roof will rot away or fall off. If they can persuade you to agree to have the work done, the ‘builders’, who are conveniently travelling in a lorry with ladders and slates and other materials, will climb up onto the roof. They usually fiddle around for half an hour or so and then come down, claim to have fixed the problem and demand an extortionate fee. They have even been known to take an elderly householder to a cash point or bank so that they can draw out money to pay them. Otherwise they can ask to go inside the house to look out of the bedroom windows or check inside the loft for water damage. Once inside, of course they
help themselves to anything they can, while you are distracted.

Bogus workmen countermeasures

  • Never listen to a door-to-door salesperson, builder, gardener or anyone. If you have not asked them to call on you, tell them no thanks and ask them to leave. If they show the slightest hesitation call the police.
  • If you do need work done ask friends, family and neighbours to recommend a reliable, trustworthy contractor who does good work for a fair price.
  • Ask at least three genuine tradespeople to give you a quote on the work. Tell them you are getting three quotes. Make an appointment for them to come and do the quote. When they come make sure all tempting valuables are out of sight. Never leave them alone when they are in the house.
  • Make sure that the contractor has a known company name and address. A lot of fly-by-night worker stick handbills on roadside poles with just a mobile phone number for a contact. Get a name and address and recommendations before you hire workers.
  • When you get a quote for some work, ask if there is any additional fee. Some quotes do not include VAT, or materials, design services or arrangements for municipal planning permission, etc. What you are looking for is an all in price.
  • When you get a quote ask for a definite schedule for the work. A vague ‘should take a couple of days and I think I can start next week’ will not be acceptable to me. I want something more like ‘It’s two and a half days work, and I can start on Monday the 15th. Allowing for the first coat of paint to dry, I will have finished the job by five o’clock on the afternoon of Thursday the 18th.’
  • When you are close to accepting a quote, ask for some references. Preferably people you know, or people who live close enough for you to at least go and see if they exist, and who will even show you the quality of the work that builder produces and tell you how happy they were with the job.
  • NEVER pay until the job is completed and you are absolutely and completely happy that the work is completed and that they have done a good job.
  • If a builder or other tradesperson asks you for money up front to buy materials for your job, wave goodbye. Get somebody else to do the work. I accept that some smaller builders may have a cash flow problem and need you to pay for materials in advance of the job, but too many workers use that as a trick to part you from your money. For that reason I will not use a worker who wants any money in advance.

Bogus Salespeople

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Beware of Smiling Salesmen!

Bogus salespeople are a double risk. They could talk their way into your home to steal things, but their crime may be to get you to buy something worthless or which they have no intention of delivering.

Bogus sales people – countermeasures

Never buy anything at the front door – no matter how much of a bargain they may make it sound, no matter how much pressure they might put on you by telling you it is a limited offer or the last one, etc. If you say it is too expensive or that you couldn’t afford to buy it until next month and they suddenly say they can reduce the price further or extend the deadline wave goodbye, they are dishonest tricksters.

Remember sales people are practised in getting your sympathy, it’s part of their sales technique. For example

a) telling you they still have 35 calls to make,

b) they have a bad ankle,

c) it’s coming on to rain,

d) they’ll get the sack if they don’t make at least one sale today.

There are a million lines that they can use, and they will use them. Don’t fall for their stories and never be sympathetic. Some salespeople – even those from reputable companies rely on wearing you down. When they get into your house you won’t be able to get rid of them, they insist on showing you just one more feature, they make a call to their area manager to get ‘special permission’ to give you another 2% discount, they offer free installation and delivery. They will find excuse after excuse to stay. When you have had enough, be blunt, be rude if you have to, tell them they are no longer welcome and tell them to leave. If they don’t, call the security guards or the police!

The best countermeasure of all is not to let them in. Don’t open the door, or if you do, keep the chain on. Ask what they want and unless you have actually asked for them to come don’t let them start their sales pitch. Tell them no thanks and shut the door. If they ring again, shout through the door that you are calling the police to get rid of them. If they don’t go call the police.

Amit Sen, a commercial pilot by training, has over 15 years experience in the space of corporate investigations, handling Copyright & Trademark infringement cases, Pre – employment verification Industrial Espionage investigations, Asset & Net – Worth assessment assignments and vendor / supplier verification cases, among others. Co-founder of Alliance One – which is the best private investigation firm in India. Amit has also successfully completed assignments in a wide range of sectors, including the machine tools industry, pharmaceutical industry, hospitality sector, specialized equipment Oil & natural gas sector, aviation industry etc. telecom industry & the IT & ITes sectors. These cases have all involved both offline and online investigations.

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