Saturday, September 7, 2013

Refuse to Be a Victim: Beware of Solicitors!

It’s late afternoon.  You are finally at home after a long day, and are relaxing on the couch. Someone comes to your front door.  You answer the door and this normal looking young man is there, and says that he represents a window company.  They are looking for homes in your neighborhood to install new energy saving windows, and then showcase your home as part of their advertising.  In return for allowing your home to be a showcase, you will get a significant cost savings on the project.  Nice looking guy.  Official looking clip-board, ID badge hanging from his neck, clean cut.  And this is such a good deal!  How can you pass this up?

This may be a legitimate sales call.  Or this may be a scam.
You are a little hesitant because perhaps you don’t want to start this type of major project right now, or maybe money is a little tight.  The sales pitch is now being laid on thicker and thicker to convince you that you really need to consider this. 

So the solicitor says:  “Can you give me a landline number?  My company will get in touch with you and explain the deal further.”

Did you catch the scam?  Before I tell you what it is, let me give you a hint and tell you that these scams are kind of like “sleight of hand” gimmicks in that one thing is used to distract you from the real purpose of the “mission” that this person is on.  And yes – I used the word “mission” on purpose to give you a hint.  Any thoughts yet?

The Scam:

OK – here it is.  This is possibly a reconnaissance mission.  Reconnaissance to look for targets for home invasion and/or burglary.  The thick sales pitch was a distraction from the other subtle things being asked, such as for you to give them a landline phone number.  And if you’re thinking about your house windows and energy savings, you aren’t thinking about looking for what other pieces of information this person is collecting during this visit.

First, by going door to door, our “salesman” gets to write down street addresses and house descriptions.  That official looking clipboard is for taking notes, after all.  A salesman writing down notes looks perfectly normal. 

They get to see if anyone is home at that time, they get to see who answers the door (man, woman, child), they can now tell which houses have dogs (as alerted by the doorbell), and they can also see which houses have alarm signs in their front yards (and/or stickers on the door).  If a person answers the door, besides seeing if an adult, man or woman, they can see what “type” of person it is: Stern, timid, mad, happy, geeky, forceful, easy to convince, skeptic, gullible, etc. 

All of these characteristics can help the thieves decide if that person will present a threat to them even if they are home during a potential home invasion.  They now also know what other threats to their success exist at that house.

Secondly, they asked specifically for a landline phone number.  Why do you suppose that is?  Well, if they have a street address, and can then associate a landline (hard wired) phone number to that address, they then have some pretty concrete exploitable information about your physical residence. 

Then the next part of the reconnaissance begins.  Several calls can be made to that landline to see if anyone is home at various times of day, find out who is home at those times (did an adult or children answer the phone?), and start putting together a pattern of the most opportune times for an invasion or burglary.  If someone answers, it is easy to fabricate a story for why they are calling.  It is also extremely easy to spoof the phone number for the caller ID, or simply make it appears as "Unknown." 

Associating a landline with a home with an alarm system also gives the thieves an opportunity to figure out which methods they need to use to defeat or circumvent the alarm.

Here's What You Can Do:

For starters, you are not obligated to answer your door.  But to help you decide whether or not to answer, consider installing a wide angle peep hole in your door so that you can see a wider area of your front entry area.

Only allow the adults in your house to answer the door.  Tell children that under no circumstances are they to open the door to anyone.

If you are going to answer the door, take a moment to compose yourself, put on your game face, and prepare yourself to question everything about this person standing at your doorstep.  You don’t need to verbalize every question, but don’t get so caught up in the sales pitch that you forget to keep asking yourself why they are here, what red flags should be going up, and what general suspicions you have about them.

Put a “No Soliciting” sign on your front door.  Where I live, it is against the law to make unannounced house sales calls like this if there is a “No Soliciting” sign posted.  Maybe this will keep them away and help avoid the whole situation entirely.  If it is a legitimate sales person, they know about the laws, and will probably honor it.  Criminals don’t know or care about laws.  If they won’t honor that “no Soliciting” sign, that should be a red flag.

Do NOT give them your home (landline) phone number under ANY circumstances.  I personally would be hesitant to even give them a cell phone number.  Ask for the company's phone number and tell them that YOU will initiate any call for service. 

Ask for more official identification (such as a driver’s license) to compare to that neat looking little ID badge they have hanging from their neck.  Write down who they are, what company they claim to be from, and even ask for a business card.  If they have no business cards, that should also be a red flag for you.

Answer their questions with conviction.  Don’t waffle or look like you are unsure of yourself.  But keep your answers short and direct.  Don’t give out information about you or your household.

If you are not interested in the sales pitch, state as such directly.  Again – tell them YOU will initiate contact with their company if services are desired, and after you have verified the legitimacy of their company.

After you close the door, write down everything you can remember about them.  Time, date, height, weight, race, hair color, clothing, what they were carrying, name from identification.  Were they on foot, or did they drive up in a vehicle?  If a vehicle, write down a description and license plate number, if able.  Did they seem nervous?  What was their general demeanor?

If you have an alarm system, explore whether or not cellular technology is available for the monitoring portion of the alarm, or consider switching to an alarm company that does offer cellular technology.  I have looked into the “SimpliSafe” alarm system, for example, and will be switching to that from ADT. (I will write a separate review once installed).

It may be a legitimate sales call, or they may be sizing you up for burglary or home invasion.  Absent your crystal ball or superpowers for predicting the future, you have no way of telling.  If it is for criminal purposes, you have to remember that they are sizing you up and doing risk analysis on you and your home.  They don’t want to get hurt “on the job” and they don’t want to go to jail.  It is your job to size them up also, try to see the red flags, and do your own risk analysis and threat management.

Ultimately, you need to do whatever is possible to make your home an undesirable target for them.  If you can get them to move on and eliminate you as a target quickly, then that is a very good thing.

Refuse to be a victim!