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 has published its top tips to help households outsmart distraction burglars.
About nine bogus caller crimes are reported every day in England and Wales 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 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 a 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 - but not using any number provided by the doorstep caller.
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.
Dame Yve Buckland, chair of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “If you have an elderly family member, friend or neighbour who is particularly vulnerable we’d urge you to share our simple advice with them to help protect them and 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.
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.
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