10 common types of door-to-door scams
Popular door-to-door scams include bogus contractor repairs, home inspections, security system installations or upgrades, and disaster relief offers. When unsuspecting residents answer their doors, scammers hope to:
- Take victims’ money during visits (by accepting payment for a low-quality product or service or upfront payment for a product or service supposedly to be delivered later)
- Steal items discreetly while they are inside the victim’s house
- Distract residents while another person slips inside and steals items
- Case homes to help them break in more easily later
- Get their hands on personally identifying information such as residents’ Social Security numbers or bank account numbers so they can steal their identities later.
1. Home inspection scam
In this common scam, fraudsters offer a complimentary home inspection to lure victims. Following the assessment, they may claim that your roof, plumbing, wiring, or some other aspect of your home requires urgent attention. They make a great deal to do the necessary repairs, but there's a catch — they demand immediate payment. Once homeowners pay up, the scammers vanish into thin air, never heard from again.
Naturally, there are variations of this scheme. Some scammers may use the opportunity to access your home, intending to steal your belongings later. They may pretend that everything is in order. Still, they've acquired your Social Security number or gathered substantial information about your safes, the presence of dogs, and whether you have a security system. Alternatively, they may steal your valuable possessions while you are not paying attention.
2. Home security installation scam
In this scam, perpetrators deceive you about increased criminal activity in your neighborhood and stress the need for a security system to protect your home. They may enter your house pretending to assess its suitability for the system. Still, their true motives are either to identify vulnerabilities for a future break-in or to steal your belongings directly.
If you already have a security system, scammers may remove some equipment and pose as representatives from another company, persuading you to switch providers. This can lead to paying for multiple “security services.” Various versions of this scheme include:
- Phony upgrades: Scammers pretend to be from your security company and offer to replace your system but instead install an expensive monitoring contract.
- A company going “out of business”: Scammers claim your security company has closed down and visit your home to fulfill your security needs.
These individuals may work for dubious yet technically legitimate security companies.
3. Home repairs scam
In a home repair scam, criminals may approach your door and pretend to notice a problem with your house or claim they were sent by someone you know. They may even use your name, obtained from your mail, to appear legitimate.
Once they have your attention, they will take you outside to show you the repairs they can supposedly do, like fixing your roof. Meanwhile, another person will sneak into your house, often through the back door, and steal your belongings.
In different versions of this scam, criminals may claim you need repairs for your fence, roof, siding, driveway, car, tree-trimming services, or that your home violates a building code.
Some scammers may ask for upfront payment for “necessary” repairs but never return to do the work. Others may request payment in advance to buy a part or tool before starting the repair, but they never actually perform the work.
4. Overpriced or poor-quality products scam
In this scheme, salespeople have actual products they sell door-to-door. However, they sell them for a ridiculously unfair price or represent the products as much better quality than they are. Often, scammers attempt to sell vacuums, cleaning products, meat, or art supplies.
5. Survey scams
In this door-to-door scam, criminals pose as surveyors, often claiming to represent the U.S. Census. They aim to gather personal information for identity theft or request money directly. The scam includes various forms, such as election surveys and wellness checks. They may ask about subscriptions or use the survey as a sales pitch. Never disclose sensitive information for a survey, as there is no legitimate reason to do so.
6. Deed theft
Without knowing what they are signing, homeowners sign the deed to their house over to scammers. They may think they're signing loan modification paperwork, foreclosure stop documents, tax paperwork, or something similar.
Deed theft is prevalent in senior-citizen areas, lower-income neighborhoods, and neighborhoods where people of color live. It’s fairly common in New York City, where residents reported 3,000 deed theft complaints from 2014 to 2019. Brooklyn accounted for 45% of reports. The scammers in these situations could be working for wealthy real estate developers who want to sell real estate at a staggering profit. If you’re unsure about the contents of a contract or document, don’t sign it immediately. Ask for a second opinion from a trusted advisor or attorney.
7. Disaster relief scams
Disaster relief scams occur in areas that experienced power, internet, or phone service outages, especially after major storms or other natural disasters. Scammers say you must pay a fee to turn your utilities back on. In reality, you never have to do this.
8. Energy scams
Individuals posing as salespeople or utility representatives may approach you at home and request to see your electricity bill. They will claim that you can save a significant amount of money by switching to another energy provider. However, be cautious: these individuals may employ manipulative and often illegal tactics to convince you to switch providers. In some cases, they may not even be affiliated with any legitimate energy provider and are solely interested in obtaining upfront payment from you.
In another variation of this scam, the scammers may falsely assert that you are entitled to a refund on your energy bill. They may also mention specific neighbors who have allegedly received refunds, using their names to establish credibility. If you provide the scammers with your account number, that could be sufficient for them to switch your service without your consent or knowledge.
9. Donation scams
In this scam, criminals will come to your door asking for donations to local nonprofits or charities. However, instead of ensuring the money is used for a good cause, they steal your donation and put it in their pocket.
If you’re interested in donating to charities, do some research first. For example, look up their websites to ensure they’re legitimate and investigate their financial statements. Do not give to anyone who comes to your door seeking donations.
10. Work halfway done or intentional damage scams
In the “work halfway done” scam, con artists provide a quote for a job like repairing your front steps but never deliver the promised contract. They start working unexpectedly while you're asleep and pressure you to sign the contract hastily when you wake up.
They claim to find more severe issues during the job and demand a higher price. Even if you pay, there's no guarantee they'll finish or do the work properly. In a similar fraud, workers intentionally damage your property and demand excessive payments for repairs or replacements, using false claims to justify inflated contracts.
Deceptive phrases scammers may use to gain access to your home
- “Could I have some water?”
- “Could I use the bathroom?”
- “Can you give me directions?”
- “You’re not going to let me in? That’s not very polite.”
- “Let me show you what I mean about the fence [roof, siding, air conditioner, etc.].” Meanwhile, an accomplice slips inside the house.
- “Let’s test this vacuum cleaner [or other product] on your carpet.”
- “We need to assess your security system setup for an upgrade or replacement.”
- “I’m here to fix your water heater.”
What are the potential risks and consequences of falling victim to a door-to-door scam?
- Identity theft
- Financial losses
- Property damage
- Break-ins and thefts
- Loss of home
- Feelings of shame and helplessness