It started with a simple knock at the door. A polite young man apologising for disturbing me. A chat about the rehab programme he’s on for young offenders and is trying to get his life back in order and just needs a little bit of help.
Maybe it was the heat, maybe I was just in a good mood, or maybe I’m just naive. But fast forward half an hour and a normal Wednesday turned into the day I became a victim of a doorstep scam.
I’m not alone. In 2020, ActionFraud warned that £18.7m was lost to doorstep crime in the UK. Last year’s lockdowns may have brought a brief respite but earlier this year Which? warned that doorstep scams were up to pre-pandemic levels. From rogue traders to fake charity collections, bogus officials or simple hard luck stories, we’ve all read about them, heard about them, and I bet we’ve all wondered who might be silly enough to fall for them – until it happens to us.
In hindsight, there were plenty of warning signs. The holdall full of dodgy cleaning products. The temporary ID that I should have checked thoroughly but didn’t. The story itself which, if properly examined, had more holes than a sieve. Yet still I parted with £35 of my hard-earned cash to a complete stranger based on a tale that tugged at my heartstrings.
Perhaps it was the careful way he spoke and put me at ease. Or the ice lolly he was clutching that made me feel for someone having to traipse around in a heatwave. It may have been the story itself – growing up my dad worked with young offenders and after hearing many of their stories I’ve always believed in second chances.
There was the heartfelt mention of how much he’d let his mum down and wanted to prove he could be better (oh, the irony!) or the experience he’d had of being locked down alone in a flat following his release from prison, struggling like so many people with a lack of human contact for months.
As we talked, I couldn’t help but feel lucky to have the life I do, and that I should do something to help someone else. As he thanked me profusely for not judging and giving him a chance, I felt a flush of happiness at having done something, no matter how small, to help someone else in a time when we all agree kindness is important. The sinking feeling came as I shut the door.
A few Google searches, a call to the organisation he had mentioned, and that sinking feeling grew. Of course it was a scam. What on earth was I thinking? How could I be so stupid? Doorstep scams don’t happen to people like me. They happen to the elderly and vulnerable, to people who aren’t as savvy or as clued up as me, a 38-year-old journalist who hasn’t just read about these scams, but written about them too.
The sinking feeling turned to anger. Anger with him for taking advantage of my kindness in a time when there already isn’t enough of it in the world. Anger at myself for being so stupid. My strength of feeling surprised me. I’ve been burgled before, had money nicked from my bank account, and neither left me feeling like this. Because scamming is personal. You’ve looked that person in the eye and believed them, trusted them and given them a chance.
They play on our most basic of human emotions and take advantage of a simple desire to help other people. And that’s what makes us all susceptible, no matter how immune we think we are.