One of my earliest memories of my father talking about his childhood, was when he described how he and his friends would run with free rein in and out of all the houses in his street. All the front doors were left open and he often slept at whichever friend’s house he ended up at. Lots of tradesmen would deliver direct to the front door - coal, milk, fruit & vegetables, insurance, and tinkers who sold everything from dusters to pots to underwear - eat your heart out Tesco! Most were well known and trusted. That's not to say that there wasn't crime, I'm sure there was, but the local Bobby on the Beat also knew everyone and kept an eye on the houses and local community. Word spread quickly and it was hard for burglar or general thief to go unnoticed.
The world has obviously changed from those days, most homes rarely get cold callers any more, but in losing that lifestyle we have perhaps also lost some of the instincts and life skills that warn us to unscrupulous visitors. Plus, a lot of elderly people who remember those days, are still worryingly trusting when someone knocks on their front door.
I was shocked to discover that there were over 200,000 reported doorstep crimes last year and one of the most common MO’s a person knocking at the front door pretending to be from a utility company. They would distract the occupier whilst an accomplice entered the property via a back door and steal whatever they could get their hands on.
One of the most distressing cases I dealt with as a Detective was a lady in her 90’s who was conned at her front door by 2 men pretending to be roofers. They came every week purporting to do repairs on her roof, never even touching it. They stole thousands of pounds from her - even taking her to the cash machine at one point. Eventually her family found out and we managed to catch up with them. But by that time most of her savings were gone and we never got them back.
Some neighbourhoods have ‘nominated neighbour’ schemes whereby an elderly or vulnerable person nominates a local friend or neighbour to act as an intermediary should a stranger knock asking for access to their home. The police have access to the information and the occupant contacts them to come and assist when someone comes to the door.
There are also lots of things you can do to your home as well which provide additional security. Starting with essential spy holes and door chains, to the latest video intercoms there are plenty of options.
Door intercoms are very much the future of door security and are the perfect solution to the problem. There are simple handset options which just allow you to talk to the person outside without opening the door, remember to ask them who they are and what they want before opening the door.
There is also a phone and door intercom for those who prefer one handset to operate both – useful for people who can’t get around the home quickly and need to carry the phone handset with them.
The premium intercom on the market is the video intercom, which has a great screen so that you can see the caller clearly as well as talk to them, but best of all they can't see you.
For all intercoms, if someone should try to disable the handsets by taking out the batteries, an alarm sounds on the handset to alert you. All good stuff which will hopefully make you more confident in dealing with cold callers.
If it's someone from a utility company get them to hold up their identity pass so you can check the picture matches the face of the person at the door. This card will also have a contact number so if you're not expecting a visit from a Gas Company for example you can call and check to see if they're genuine.
Ultimately the golden rule is if you're not sure about the person at your door, don't let them in! Sounds simple but con artists can be very persuasive and any of us can get caught out.
I’m not sure what my fathers’ generation would have made of this technology or the world in which it is needed. But we are in a place now where this sort of crime is increasing and with more and more people being isolated from friends and family, it’s crucial we keep our wits about us build up the instincts to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
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