Distraction burglary

Not sure? Don't answer the door!

Doorstep crime can include rogue traders offering home improvement or gardening services, callers trying to sell you goods or bogus callers who are pretending to be someone they are not, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Avoid becoming easy prey by not answering the door to anyone you do not know.

If you’re not sure, don’t answer the door!

Distraction burglary is when criminals call at your home posing as officials or asking for help with something. They make up a story to get in with the intention of stealing from you.

How distraction burglars operate

  • Some work alone, but often they work in groups of two or more. Usually one person will knock at your door with a convincing excuse that seems genuine or urgent
  • The talker will persuade you to let them into your home and keep you occupied whilst others sneak in and search for cash and valuables
  • They can be men, women or children and sometimes a combination, smartly or casually dressed

Common lies distraction burglars use

“I’m from the “Water board”, there’s a leak down the road I need to check your
water supply”

This will never be true. The phrase “waterboard” is no longer used by legitimate callers – only distraction burglars. Don’t open the door,even if they say “It’s an emergency”

“I need to read your meter”

Check with your utility company before you let them in. You can call the freephone Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99 or your water company directly. You may also be able to joinyour utility provider’s password scheme

“We’re the police, we’ve caught a burglar. We think he’s stolen your cash and we need to check your money is safe”

Genuine police officers never do this. Don’t let them in. If you find someone already in your home who says they’re from the police, call the real police on 999 straight away

Protect yourself from distraction burglars

  • Lock your back door and close windows before you answer the door
  • Use a spy hole and chain to check who the caller is before you answer
  • Ask to see the caller’s ID, even if they have made an appointment to see you, and call their company yourself (not on a number they provide) to check they are genuine
  • Never leave the door open and unattended - close it until you return
  • Ask the caller to return another time when someone can be with you.

Rogue traders call at your door and offer to do work on your home or garden that will be either unnecessary or vastly over-priced. They have no qualifications to carry out the work and sometimes have links with distraction burglars.

How rogue traders operate

  • They may say they are in the area and have spotted a problem with your home or garden
  • They might claim to have materials left over from another job, like paving or tarmac
  • They could try to pressure you to buy goods or sign up for services on the spot
  • They may offer to carry out work cheaply, but charge an extortionate price after it has been completed
  • They might offer to drive you to a bank so you can withdraw money to pay them.

Protect yourself from rogue traders

  • Never agree to have a job carried out if you feel unsure or pressured into it – a genuine caller will not mind coming back at a more convenient time or giving you time to think about an offer
  • Never accept an offer to be driven to withdraw money from your bank or building society from anyone you do not know or do not trust
  • Never go to a bank or cash point with a trader; legitimate traders would never do this
  • Don’t allow anyone to pressure you into agreeing to have work carried out. If you ask them to leave and they don’t, call 999
  • Only use reputable workmen recommended by family and friends, or those who have worked satisfactorily for you before
  • Don’t agree to any work or sign anything on the spot.

Doorstep callers often visit your home at all times of the day selling household products from a large holdall. These people are often referred to as “Nottingham Knockers” a reference to the area where this activity first began.

How doorstep callers operate

  • They may tell you that they have recently been released from prison having made a mistake in life and are attempting to mend their ways by taking part in a scheme organised by the Probation Service or similar agency. However, this type of activity is not part of any recognised rehabilitation scheme
  • Some sellers may even produce a card stating that they are deaf and dumb. You may be shown an identity type card to support their claim although this will usually contain very little information, which may well be false in any case
  • They will be selling items including ironing board covers, dusters, first aid kits and car cleaning equipment. The goods are usually of poor quality and vastley overpriced
  • They will not be deterred by residents not having enough money available to buy their goods and will be happy to accept a cheque in order to complete a sale
  • They may come across as friendly and polite and will want you to feel sorry for them, but their behaviour will usually change should you refuse to buy their products and this can be intimidating
  • They may be part of or working for organised criminal groups and are using their activities to obtain information about your house. This information is then sold on to other criminals who may use it to target your house. 

Protect yourslef from doorstep callers

  • If you are not expecting anybody, don't answer the door
  • Never invite them into your home
  • Display notices in your window advising that you do not buy door to door
  • Warn friends and relatives particularly elderly people that these callers are active in your area
  • Keep in mind that if doorstep callers do not get any sales in your area, they are less likely to return.


If a crime is taking place, call 999

To give information about suspicious activity, call the police on 101

If you have information about a rogue trader, have agreed to have work done or need advice about work carried out already, contact Trading Standards via the Citizens’ Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06

Home Heat Helpline:
Call 0800 33 66 99 to set up a personal password system for gas and electricity staff to use every time they call at your home.

Yorkshire Water:
For information and details of how to set up a password, click here.

Neighbourhood watch:
Click here for details of watches in your area and how to join.

Operation Liberal

Operation Liberal is the national operation set up to tackle distraction burglary.

The operation has contacts in each force in England and Wales and a close working relationship with those in Scotland and Ireland.

South Yorkshire Police are currently working with many partner agencies promoting messages and helping to educate the public and those who work with or help older people about the dangers of bogus callers and rogue traders.