Not all burglars break into homes – some will try to trick their way in. They are known as ‘distraction burglars’ or ‘bogus callers’ who may be smartly dressed and claim to be from the council, the police, gas, electric or water companies and their only aim is to get into homes to distract people and steal their money or valuables. About nine bogus caller crimes are reported every day in England and Wales. Most callers are genuine but bogus callers can often seem plausible and this distressing crime regularly sees them take advantage of the best intentions of vulnerable and elderly people.
Crime Reduction Officer, Joanne Rostron from West Yorkshire Police explains the effect this crime can have on elderly and vulnerable people and shares with us a typical case study involving bogus callers:
“The effect can be very devastating and in some circumstances we see people who have handed over all their life savings to these people for work that never needed to be carried out in the first place. We need to stress that people do need to be careful who they are opening the door to and if they are a victim of a ‘distraction burglary’ to say to them there is no need to feel embarrassed and to make sure this is reported to us”
In the UK it is estimated 90 per cent of distraction burglaries go unreported because many vulnerable victims – particularly the elderly – feel too embarrassed or scared to report the crime. Typical scenarios include stories of an emergency gas or water leak as highlighted in the below case study.
83 year old Mr S lives alone in a one bedroom, ground floor flat within a sheltered housing complex. A man, claiming to be a workman from a water services company visits and tells him he needs him to run the cold water tap. It is at this point he is let into the house and shown through to the kitchen. The man then asks Mr S to remove all the items from beneath the sink. He then leaves the kitchen shutting the door, meaning he is now out of sight. The man then returns and asks Mr S to turn on the other tap. He again leaves the room, closing the door. After a short while Mr S opens the kitchen door to see the man running from the house with an accomplice. He discovers his lounge and bedroom have been turned inside out, and later finds out cash and a large amount of jewellery have been stolen.
So what can be done to beat the bogus caller? Every member of the community can help reduce distraction burglaries. West Yorkshire Police have some helpful advice and guidance on what practical measures people can take to ensure they remain safe within their own home.
- Before you open the door, check to see who it is by looking through your front window. Before you answer the door, stop to think if you are expecting anyone.
- If you do not recognise them only open the door when you have put the chain on.
- Ask callers to provide proof of identity – genuine tradesmen should carry an identification card with their photo on. Check this carefully and if you are unsure telephone the company the caller claims to represent.
- Join your utilities companies password schemes. This is where you arrange a password with the company to check their representatives are genuine.
- If in doubt keep them out – official visitors should arrange an appointment.
- Never agree to have work done by someone who is just passing, or take their word that the work needs doing at all.
- If you do think work needs to be done, get quotes from trusted companies or ask a friend or relative for a recommendation.
- Do not keep large amounts of money in your home.
Telecare Services, which is provided by Adult Social Care also include a bogus caller alert button, which allows residents to inform the Telecare team if they are concerned about someone who knocks at their door. These buttons can be placed next to the front door or at the bedside and can be programmed to make no sound so an operator can listen to a situation and intervene if necessary.
Neighbours can also help to protect the more vulnerable in their community by looking out for one another. Residents should report all suspicious activity to the Police immediately. Everybody wants to feel safe in their own home and following these simple steps can go some way towards beating the bogus caller.