Fraudsters are using new scams related to the Covid pandemic to target vulnerable people on their doorstep, an investigation by the consumer group Which? has found.
It has heard of people claiming to be from local NHS services offering fast-track testing and vaccines, selling vitamin pills that supposedly protect against Covid, and collecting donations for fake charities.
Rogue traders have also used the pandemic as an opportunity to revive traditional doorstep scams such as offering building, gardening or home improvement services that they overcharge for or never complete.
A survey of 1,186 Which? members carried out in February this year found that 16% had received unsolicited visits from someone claiming to be a salesperson or charity worker since the start of the first lockdown. Some said they felt the visitor tried to pressure them into making a purchase or donating money.
According to data from Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, £18.7m was lost to doorstep crime in 2020, though with many in-person scams thought to go unreported, the true figures could be much higher.
The number of reports to police for this type of fraud in April 2020 was 46% lower than in April 2019, owing to the lockdown, but by the summer of 2020, with fewer restrictions to stop fraudsters from going out, reports of these in-person scams had returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Doorstep scams account for about 5% of all scams, according to research by Citizens Advice. About 85% of victims of doorstep scams are aged 65 and over, National Trading Standards has said.
NHS services across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have stressed that their testing and vaccine services are always free of charge and that no one will ever turn up at someone’s home without warning.
Meanwhile, an increase in home improvement projects during lockdown provided scammers with “new opportunities to rehash old scams”, said Which?
More than a third (37%) of the members surveyed who had received an unsolicited door knock said that it was someone offering home improvement services.
Adam French, a consumer rights expert at Which?, said: “It’s highly concerning that doorstep scammers are back in business and looking to exploit the pandemic in every way they can.”