British Telecom, the gas, electricity and water companies, and consumer protection bodies are supporting the Doorstoppers campaign, which centres on a code of practice for all organisations which can make unannounced calls on private homes.
The campaign is being launched because senior Scotland Yard officers have been alarmed that in 1992 there were almost 7,000 cases of burglaries committed by bogus callers, known as burglary artifice by the police, a rise of 2,000 on 1991. The offence accounts for 5 per cent of all residential burglaries in London. It is believed that more than 70 per cent of the victims are aged over 80.
Det Insp Malcolm Baber, who has run an anti-bogus callers operation in north-east London, said perpetrators came in 'all shapes and sizes. Young children, teenagers, single women . . . with all manner of excuses for gaining entry.' Sometimes they were children who offered to do small jobs, others claimed to be workmen or representives from the public utilities needing access to the house. They rarely worked alone, he said.
Det Insp Baber said that in north-east London police had acted after it was realised that only 1 in 100 cases was being detected. As a result of an intensive campaign to improve the police response and alert the public, the detection rate had risen to 32 per cent.
The code of practice being urged on companies and the utilities involves ensuring that employees are always dressed in distinctive uniforms and carry identification cards, reducing the numbers of unexpected visits, making sure that company vehicles are clearly marked and providing telephone numbers for people to check the caller is genuine.
Because of the high number of elderly victims and the fact that 1993 is European Year of the Elderly, the campaign is being backed by Age Concern and 400,000 Doorstoppers leaflets have been distributed with pension payments this week. A video film is also being played in Post Offices.