A bit of coincidence and cockiness probably saved me from an undesirable scenario recently and I want to share it if it can help other Londoners (or indeed people from anywhere in the world).
Somebody rang my doorbell in the day and I ignored it, like I usually do, because I wasn’t expecting anybody. It’s usually people who have got the wrong number or nuisances like leaflet droppers and questioners from charities.
The person rang again and I considered answering the door because they might indeed need some help (as has happened a few times) and no one else seems to be attending to them.
Then I heard loud rapping on my door window and a hand through my letterbox with a voice asking for attention. The first subconscious thought was that this seemed a bit desperate and something told me to hold off answering.
Then the knocking and calling appeared at another window. I hesitated then decided to go there. There was a man in a hi-vis jacket who waved when he saw me. I waved back then proceeded to my front door where the man then re-appeared.
I opened my door with the chain lock on:
“Hello. I’ve gotta come in to read your meter!”
“But I submitted my meter readings a few days ago.” (a lucky truth)
“Well, we have to check them again anyway.”
I noticed he had no insignia of any energy company on his clothing. His ID looked very dubious too – lacking the name of any company or a sufficiently big picture. I went into red alert:
“Can you give me your ID so I can call my energy company to confirm that you’ve been sent out?”
“I can’t do that… Look, just have a look at my ID through the window.” [presses it against window]
“So you’re not going to give me your ID? Right, well that’s understood then.” [a kind of cockiness enters my voice]
You can see a look of hunter-looking-hunted in his eyes as I close the door. He doesn’t ring again, disappears, and no other ‘meter reader’ turns up again. Another reason for suspicion was that this wasn’t the first time I came across a dubious ringer but I had shoo’d such people away before a conversation even developed (you get used to this from nuisance phone callers).
There were a few other things in hindsight that came to mind:
- He didn’t ring my intercom button, meaning someone else had let him in, perhaps with an excuse such as needing to come to leave a package with an absent household.
- The guy didn’t even tell me what company he was from or ask for my name – I should’ve said “what’s the name of the customer you’re looking for?”
- He didn’t have the electronic device to record meter readings on – in fact he had nothing.
- Lastly, access to my property is a waste of time. My meters can be read by anybody via viewing windows beside the door. Also, no meter reader has been desperate to knock in such a way.
I called 101 (non-emergency) to register this very obvious dodginess (I hedge it was an attempt of distraction theft, based on recent memory of news) but I was miffed at how unarsed the person was. I later read that the Met Police regard 101 as a waste of time. But you can’t call 999 for a crime that didn’t happen.
A friend of mine has a smart meter installed (which I’ve learned is not free as its cost is spread across your energy bills) and he still requires meter reading visits because it’s company policy to do so for a few years to verify the new device’s accuracy. So I guess it’s this fact and that people don’t submit their own readings immediately that helps give these con artists a narrative.
In short, keep a look out. Here’s tips bullet-pointed:
- If you experience anything like this, let your neighbours know (particularly if they’re elderly/vulnerable) – you have to look out for each other. Inform your local Safer Neighbourhoods team too.
- If you have an intercom system and that’s not rung, see that as a yellow alert. The intercom is the first vetting point.
- Ask any caller what customer they’re looking for, maybe be cunning: “Are you here for Mr. Smith’s meters?” “Yes.” “I’m not Mr. Smith.”
- Ask what company they’re from if not obvious… “Ah, my meters, you’re from Brand X energy company, right?” “Yes.” “I’m not with Brand X, never have been.”
- Ask for their ID, they must hand it to you. Don’t call any number on it. Find your supplier’s number online or on a bill. Don’t bluff that you’ll call ‘their company’, actually do it for peace of mind. Still not convinced? Then still don’t let them in!
- If you have manual meters, submit them online as soon as your supplier asks for them. It takes 30 seconds and removes doubts when anyone does come.
Con artists I don’t think are synonymous with break-in-ers (I’m not doing good with finding the right words here), that’s why they’ll act friendly to get in. But if things do get more messy, just call 999. Break-ins are higher risk to criminals now because of the noise alerting the street and mobile video evidence is easy to create via passers-by.
Up to this point I had been a bit cavalier about utility visitors because I never had a dubious experience despite being aware of the possibility. Most people are good but because a few aren’t you have to be careful. I will continue to be.