The Crime Prevention Website


This advice is particularly aimed at the older members of our community, but should be read by all.

In Door security, Improving the security of your existing doors, Door chains and limiters the sections begins with some advice about answering the door to callers and suggests that there are two schools of thought about the use of a door chain.  The Home Office and some police services and all of the organisations dedicated to the care of the elderly recommend door chains, whilst quite a lot of police services now recommend you keep the door closed, because it’s a lot stronger than some of the flimsy or poorly fitted door chains.  The article does however suggest ways of making the door chain fitting stronger and points you to other door controlling products that might be better than the standard door chain.  When push comes to shove I do recommend fitting a door chain or door bar, but my advice suggests that you may not need to use it, because I would rather you didn’t open the door in the first place.

The next few paragraphs will go into some detail about how to deal with unexpected and bogus callers and let you know about some of the tactics used by these people to either sell you something or steal from you.  I should add here that the crime statistics quite clearly show that older members of our community suffer the lowest levels of crime, but they ARE the targets for the lowlife bogus callers and rogue traders who regard them as easy prey.  That said, people of all ages get conned at the door , so the information below is equally valid for the younger person.

Some websites suggest that most callers at the door mean us no harm and in the criminal sense I think that’s correct.  Of course, it all depends on how you define ‘harm’.  I would suggest that many of the unexpected callers at the door are, at the very least, after your money for a product or service and a few of them WILL be rogue traders - see below. 

Dealing with the unexpected caller

There are some pretty basic things you can do about controlling unexpected callers at the door, but before we consider them have a look at a little research I conducted at my own front door.

For the purpose of this article my family and I recorded the details of all the people who called at our door during May and June 2011.  I listed them as 'expected' and 'unexpected' callers.  I should add that I have a sign on my door that says that I do not buy things at the door.  It is a little faded now, but when it was new it did cut down the unexpected calls, so, as the figures suggest, I’ve clearly got to replace it with a newer and bigger one!   

These are the results: 

A Count of Expected and Unexpected Callers at my Door

measured over 2 months

Expected Callers

Unexpected Callers





My sons’ friends


My sons’ friends








Postal workers




Alarm company Rep


Wife’s accountant


Double glazing Rep


Window cleaner


Jehovah’s witness












Another religion




Window cleaner




Utility company










We had a total of 81 calls at the door in those two months, 63% of which were expected and 37% unexpected.  Of the unexpected calls, 67% were friends, neighbours or postal workers and 33% were people who wanted to sell me something or proselytise about their beliefs.  I personally define the latter callers as ‘door botherers’.  Therefore, of the 81 callers at my door, about 1 in 8 of them were door botherers of one sort or another, which over the year is slightly more than 1 a week – more than I thought.  

Controlling the unexpected callers

Based on my own bit of research and my many years in police crime prevention I would advise the following actions to reduce your chances of falling foul of the bogus caller and being bothered by too many unexpected calls: 

Put up signs

Start by trying to reduce the number of unexpected callers you get in the first place. Putting a sign on or next to the door that gives a clear message to the caller that you will not buy any goods or services at the door is a good start.  Some people will have the brass to ignore the signs and still call, but others will be put off by them, probably reducing the number of callers by up to 50% (which was my experience when I first put up my sign).  You can make your own sign, but you may prefer a readymade one from the DIY centre, or a special one made up with your own message. The sorts of sign messages I have seen in my street include:

  • I do not buy goods or services at the door – ever!
  • I do not see people except by appointment
  • No sales people
  • I have a large unfriendly dog that might eat you, so if you are selling something do not call

My own council in Hillingdon provide a sign that can be downloaded and printed at this link. The sign tells uninvited traders

  • We won’t buy from you. We don’t need any advice. Please don’t knock. Just leave and don’t return. Failure to do so is a criminal offence.  

The offence is created by The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 Provision 7 ‘Aggressive commercial practices’

These signs need to be visible after dark so if you haven’t got a light outside your front door, now is the time to get one. ( See Gardens, lighting, access and alarms, Lighting  

Know that someone has called at the door

If you’re in the back garden and you cannot hear someone knocking on the door or you cannot hear the doorbell then make changes so that you can.  Get a louder door bell or, if you are hard of hearing, ask an electrician to install some flashing lights that are activated by the bell push. 

Let me explain why using this scenario: 

You’re in the back garden and your partner is at the garden centre and so there is no car on the driveway.  Evidence of occupancy is very high on the decision making list of the 62% of burglars who prefer to burgle an unoccupied house and some of them will ring a doorbell to confirm that you’re not in.  If the occupier answers the door they will have a ready excuse for calling, such as ‘Do you want your gutters cleaning out’; something that you are almost certain to say ‘no’ to.   If you cannot hear the call and door remains unanswered the thief may incorrectly assume that you are not in and decide to break in.

True story

Over the years, I went to the scenes of hundreds of burglaries.  On one occasion the victim had been in the lavatory when the call came at the door and so it remained unanswered.  Mistakenly the burglar thought the coast was clear and shoulder barged the front door (it was only held closed on a cheap nightlatch).  As he got into the hallway he was confronted by the victim’s male Bull Mastiff, which is a rather large dog who often gets into a bad mood when woken from a favourite dream.  You can imagine the mixed look of surprise and horror on the thief’s face.  As he turned to run back out of the house ‘Buster’ got him on the back of his neck.  We know it was the back of his neck because Buster was chewing a piece of shirt collar when the victim came downstairs.  Sadly, apart from a little piece of neck, most of the thief got away on this occasion. 

So, what do you do when the sign hasn’t worked and the unexpected visitor rings the doorbell?

Lock the back door! (and close the windows) - one of the tricks!

Some distraction burglars will know you are at home and will call at your front door in order to keep you talking there while their mate goes round the back and steals from the back of the house.  It’s always a good habit to keep the back door locked anyway.  During the day you just need to turn the key in the lock, but remember to take the key out at night or when you go out. Of course, by the time you've locked the back door and closed all the rear windows the caller may have given up and walked away! 

Acknowledge a call at the door

It is essential that you acknowledge the call, because of what has been said in the preceding paragraphs.  Of course, acknowledging a call at the door is very different to actually opening the door to a caller, a stage that we’ll get to in a moment.

The first action after locking the back door, if you have one, will be to see the face of the caller and this can be done in several ways:  If you live in a house, you could pop upstairs and talk to the caller from the complete safety of an open first floor window (Second floor for my US readers).  My Mum does this on occasion.  If you can’t do this then you should either look through the clear glazed panel* of your front door, if you have one, or use a door viewer.  *A lot of people have obscured patterned glass in their entrance doors, which is not helpful for identifying callers.  You will either have to fit a door viewer or you could change the glass to clear glass and hang a net curtain on the inside to prevent people looking into the hallway. 

There are several types of door viewers, including spy hole viewers that have fish eye lenses to give you a wide angled view of the area outside; prism viewers which display a projected view of the caller onto a small screen on the back of the door (easier to use than spy holes, but you need lights outside for them to work at night); and electronic door viewers that provide an image of the caller on a small monitor (some record the image). Also there is now a 'smart' doorbell that incorporates a CCTV camera that sends images to your smart phone. 

The very best type of manual door viewer is the ‘secure vision panel’.  This is a triple glazed obscured glass panel where the centre panel moves up and down at the turn of an internal handle revealing a clear view of the scene outside the door.  They are normally fitted to new domestic doorsets, so if you’re having a new door fitted think about getting one.  See Door security, Door locks, hardware and fittings, Door viewers and Secure vision panels for more information.

OK, so you’ve now seen the caller and you’ve established it’s a stranger and the time has come to acknowledge them.  It’s at this point that my advice goes off in two directions depending on whether you are an ‘open the door’ type of person or a ‘closed door’ type. 

Keeping the door closed

There is nothing wrong with keeping the entrance door closed to an unexpected caller.  I do it all the time and I do it because I’ve got an enhanced security door, which is most effective when it’s closed and locked!  I am also under no obligation to open the door to sales people.  During the day I do open it on the chain.Talking through an unopened door isn’t that easy of course, but I find that by raising my voice a little and talking at the glazed panel in the door I can be heard.  Some people I know talk through the letter plate (I don't like letter plates) or the door jam or simply shout louder! 

If you are disabled I recommend you get a simple door phone.  They are cheap to buy and easy to install and will save you a lot of effort.  In fact door phones for ‘closed door’ people like me are a good idea anyway, because I can acknowledge the call from the comfort of my arm chair. (So I shall go and buy one when I’ve finished writing this article!) See also the smart doorbells link above.

My conversations are short and to the point and 99% of the time I send the caller on their way without having to open the door. A typical conversation goes like this:


“Do you think you could open the door?”


“I’ve got something to say that might interest you”

“No thank you, goodnight”

 End of conversation.

It’s possible that you might be expecting a visit, but have never met this person before.  Don’t simply assume that the person calling is your expected visitor; ask them their name and the name of the organisation they represent and the reason for their visit before you open the door.  If you need to see some identification before you open the door it can be passed through the letter plate, if you have one, or possibly under the door.  At this point you may need to open the door, which is why I think it’s always a good idea to a have a door chain or bar, just in case. 

Opening the door on the chain

For those of you who would prefer to open the door, now is the time to apply the door chain or door bar or other restrictive mechanism that you might have, which might be a ‘Granny’s boot’, an in-built chain in the nightlatch or perhaps a door cable.  (See Door security, Improving the security of your existing doors, Door chains and limiters for more detailed information)

Now you’ll have a clear view of the caller and be able to talk face-to-face and pass things like identification cards through the gap. If your home has a very narrow hallway, whereby the door is almost the same width as the hall, then you might not be able to look at the caller through the gap.  In these situations I recommend fitting a makeup mirror on the wall right by the doorframe that has been angled slightly to bring the caller’s face into view.  You can often stick these to the wall using blue-tak. If you need to go and get something for the caller from another part of your home keep the door chain on and close and lock the door while you fetch the item.  You should also do this when you are checking a caller’s identification.  If they’re genuine they won’t mind, even if it’s pouring down.

Some more tricks!

One of the methods used by distraction burglars, especially juveniles, is to call at your front door and ask for a glass of water.  While you’re getting it one or more of them will enter the house and steal from you.   Another regularly used ruse is to ask to use your phone because of some emergency.  Ninety nine percent of these callers will NOT be genuine, so say ‘no I can’t help you’ and close and lock the door.  Don't feel bad about it, put your own interests first this time; the thieves rely on you being the 'good Samaritan' type.  A very common trick, which was more prevalent in the 1970s and 80s, was to pretend to be from the gas or electricity company, come to read the meter.  These days the utility companies run password schemes, which have been very effective at reducing this type of con (See Password schemes below). In the highly unlikely event that you feel that there is something genuine about the caller still refuse them entry and close and lock the door, but say you will call the police for them.  Most of them will be soon gone!  If you get callers like this call the police anyway, because they may well try it on your neighbours next.

True story

In the West Mercia police area in 2014 a young women managed to con six separate people out of money in just two days! (possibly more, but the 6 were the total reported to police.) 

She’d knock on the front door and say that she lived further down the road and had locked herself out and her keys were back at the office.  She asked for money for a cab fare to get the keys and promised to pop the money back as soon as she returned.  Obviously convincing she managed to con close on £150 from the victims.  One vulnerable victim parted with £55 because the fraudster offered to get some grocery for her upon her return!

Don’t get fooled!  

Password schemes

All utility companies in the UK have password schemes.  Give them a call and tell them that you wish to set up a password for when their representatives call at your home.  They will be very helpful and explain how it all works.  Choose an easy and unique password to remember and if you need to write it down, put it somewhere safe and out of view.  When the representative calls to read the meter or carry out some work, open the door on the door chain or door bar (or keep it closed as discussed above) and ask to see their identity card.  Also ask them to quote your password.  If you are concerned that they may be overheard, ask the representative to write your password on a piece of paper and pass it through the door/letter plate etc. 

Checking company identity cards

You may need to check the identity card of a person from a utility company or a council or charity worker or some other company representative, and below are some of the things you can do.  If the caller doesn’t have an identity card, or won’t let you have it to examine then tell the caller to go.  If the caller has already told you that they represent a utility company think about calling the police on 999, because if they were genuine they would have handed over their identity card.

  • Examine the identity card to see if it looks and feels genuine
  • If there is an expiry date, has the date expired?
  • Does the photograph match the caller’s face; has the photo been stuck over another? (you may have to take it out of a plastic wallet to check this)
  • Does the telephone number match the ones you’ve recorded for the company?  (You could also check the phone book, a bill or call directory enquiries)  It’s a good idea to have a list of your utility companies and their phone numbers right by the phone.
  • If the telephone number doesn’t match, or you are unsure about ANY aspect ring the company and ask them if they have sent someone out to you
  • If the company does not know the caller, call the police using 999.
  • Keep the chain on and the door closed and locked whilst you are carrying out these checks
  • Having the phone number of a close neighbour to hand would be really useful.  Because my wife works from home she used to look after the very elderly lady living opposite.  If she was a bit worried about something she would give us a ring and we'd go over and help out.  If you're a younger person and have an elderly neighbour do think about helping them out in this way. 

Rogue traders

Rogue traders are dishonest trades people who knock on your door (cold call) and offer to carry out work that doesn’t need doing at ridiculously high prices.  The work, when it does need doing, is almost always to a very poor standard.  Most of them always want cash (because they don’t pay their taxes) and it is highly likely that that their identities will be fictitious.


Typical offers include:Replacing broken/loose tiles or slates (See True story below), Replacing soffits and facia boards, Resurfacing a driveway or hard standing, alarm installations and gardening 

True story

One day I had a caller at the door asking me if I wanted my roof fixing.  I saw he had his mate with him sitting in the white van. He pointed up to my roof and said that I had a couple of broken tiles and he could fix them for a very reasonable price.  I walked outside and looked up and could see that a small corner of one tile had broken off and had slipped a little way down the roof.  “Somewhat of an exaggeration” I said to him. Clearly he didn’t understand the word “exaggeration” as he didn’t respond to my criticism of his observation, but went straight into his patter about a small broken piece of tile could mean there are others cracked etc, etc.  He then said he would reduce his costs by half as he had all the gear in the van.  Now I was (and still am) bigger and uglier than he was, so we didn’t get to the price negotiation stage, because he could see I wasn’t amused; and anyway he’d told me an outright lie.  I said that I would get my usual builder onto the job.  I went back indoors and called the number of our local neighbourhood policing team to let them know there were some rogues in the area.  They’re a good bunch and so I know that they would have pulled them over for some awkward questions.      

Getting work done

If you need work doing speak to your family, friends or neighbours and get some quotes from recommended trades people. If you have unwittingly used a cold caller to do some work and they offer to drive you to a cash machine or your bank to get their money DON'T accept the offer.  Tell them to return on a specific day for payment and arrange to have someone with you.  This is especially necessary if the work is not to the standard you were expecting and you wish to negotiate.  If the workers pressurise you for the money and you feel unsafe close the door on them and call the police on 999. Do not pay any money over until the job has been completed to your satisfaction. 

Where can you get more help?

Take a look at No Cold Calling Zones and Doorstep Selling on this site for further information about your consumer rights

Age UK produces an excellent downloadable booklet about the various scams entitled  Avoiding Scams – Smart ways to protect yourself.  If you don’t have a door chain or spy hole or your general security needs upgrading you may be able to benefit from Age UK’s Handyperson service.  To find out if you qualify and if there is a service in your area visit the Handyperson service.  Do also visit the website of Age UK for lots of other advice concerning your security and safety or call them on 0800 169 6565.  If the Handyvan service is not available in your area the local branch of Age UK might be able to help. 

Updated December 2016